§ As amended, further considered.
§ Question again proposed.
§ Debate resumed.
§ (4.25.) MR. ARTHUR WILLIAMS (Glamorgan, S.)
The Welsh people have great respect for the administrators of the law, but this large and unrestricted power of committing for contempt of Court ought not to be left to be exercised in these tithe cases by a possibly irritable and capricious Judge. We say that the County Courts ought not to have the power of imposing any disability, such as fine or imprisonment, for non-compliance with an order of the Court, except such non-compliance as is already specified in the County Courts Act. The power of commitment is one which ought not to exist, being one of an arbitrary nature and capable of being unfairly enforced. The proposal of the Bill is to incorporate the 162nd section of the County Courts Act, which gives the power of commitment if any person shall wilfully insult the Judge or any witness, registrar, plaintiff, or officer of the Court during the sitting of the Court. That is a provision we do not object to under proper regulations, as it is only proper that the administration of justice should be conducted with decency and respect towards those who administer it. But the section does not stop there. It goes on to declare that if any person shall insult the Judge during his sitting or attendance at the Court, or in going to or returning from the Court, or shall wilfully interrupt the proceedings of the Court, or otherwise misbehave in Court, it shall be possible for the Judge to order such offender into custody and commit him for any period not exceeding seven days. I maintain that that is a power which ought not to exist under any circumstances, as I know from personal knowledge that it may be used in a most arbitrary way. We are wise, I think, in insisting on the withdrawal of this source of irritation and friction. Whether you allow imprisonment or not, the moment you pass this Bill the Welsh people will be more determined than ever that the tithe shall not be paid. I do appeal to the House to consider whether at this moment it would be well to take a new departure 220 of this kind simply in the interests of the dignity of the Court, without surrounding it by some safeguards by way of appeal or otherwise?
§ (4.32.) THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF TRADE (Sir M. HICKS BEACH, Bristol, W.)
When the hon. Member first raised this subject I thought that all he proposed to do was to limit the power of the County Court Judge in these matters to the provisions of the County Courts Act, 1888. We are quite in accordance with that view, and I shall be prepared when the time comes to move a few words at the end of Sub-section 7, which would give, I think, effect to it. But now a far different matter is being raised, and it is impossible for us to concede what is being asked. The hon. Member proposes thatThe County Court shall not have power to impose any penalty, either by way of fine or imprisonment, for non-compliance with, or disobedience to, any order or officer of the Court in any proceedings under this Act, except only in the cases specified and provided for in Section 48 of the County Courts Act, 1888.But I am sure the hon. Member is too well acquainted with the County Court Act not to see that the provisions of such a clause are far wider than he at first contemplated. He must be aware that Sections 50, 102, and 111 of the County Courts Act of 1888 set out offences punishable by fine, which nobody can say with any reason ought not to be so punished. Among these offences are extortion, misconduct, or refusing to account for money on the part of an officer of the Court, non-attendance of juror, and refusing to give evidence, to produce books, or to be sworn as a witness. Surely no one would desire to deprive the County Court of the powers it possesses in these cases, and no hon. Member would feel sympathy with offenders of this kind. Then Section 162 enables the Court to commit for a period of seven days for insults directed to the Judge, jurors or officers of the Court, or for misconduct in Court. When this clause was under discussion in Committee I understood that its supporters were willing that Section 162, as well as Section 48, of the Act of 1888 should be recognised as applicable to cases brought under this Bill.
§ SIR M. HICKS BEACH
I understood the words of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby as tantamount to a suggestion that both sections should stand.
§ SIR M. HICKS BEACH
I do not wish to doubt the right hon. Gentleman's recollection, but I do not remember that he suggested any modification of Section 162. An hon. Member has spoken of that section as a discredit to our system of administering justice. But the House will remember it was deliberately settled after a most patient investigation by a Committee a little more than two years ago, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton took a very active part in the consideration of the matter. Why should a law agreed to so recently as that be changed in respect only to actions for the recovery of tithe rent-charge? The House should observe that the power of the County Court Judge, under Section 162, is limited to committal for seven days. The section is intended to protect the Court from insult. There is no power, as has been suggested by some hon. Members, to fine a man for calling for "three cheers for Mr. Gladstone" while the process of recovering tithe rent-charge is being carried into effect. The forty-eighth section will only apply in a case where an officer of the Court is assaulted in the execution of his duty, or where a rescue is made or attempted. I have only to say, in conclusion, that if hon. Members opposite desire that it shall be made clear that the powers of the County Court Judge, under this Bill, shall be limited by the provisions of the Act of 1888, I am willing to insert in the measure words for that purpose. If, on the other hand, the intention is to take away from the Court some of the powers deliberately granted by the Act of 1888, I must resist it.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
Certainly. But I only wished, by the indulgence of the House, to make a suggestion to my hon. Friend. It is, that as the right hon. Gentleman will undertake to bring in 222 words of his own to carry out my hon. Friend's wish, and as there will be an opportunity upon that Amendment to discuss the whole matter, it would be as well now to let the subject stand over until the House is in possession of the right hon. Gentleman's Amendment.
§ MR. S. T. EVANS
Then I am prepared on that understanding to take the course suggested by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby.
§ Motion and Clause, by leave, withdrawn.
§ (4.43.) MR. RANDELL (Glamorgan, Gower)
I have to propose a new clause, to the following effect:—In any action or matter under this Act, it shall be lawful for the plaintiff or defendant to require a jury to be summoned to try the said action or matter.Now, trial by jury is a privilege possessed by all litigants, and no good reason has been urged by the Government for denying the same right to the tithepayer. I raised this question in Committee, and I again raise it on Report, because of the strong feeling in the Principality in favour of the clause. The tithepayers cannot understand why they should be deprived of the protection of trial by jury. Under Section 101 of the County Courts Act, 1888, there is no right to a jury except in cases where the amount claimed exceeds £5, unless by leave of the Judge. Now, that rule should not apply in this matter. The tithepayer should have an absolute right to trial by jury. I therefore hope the Government will concede this, as, if they refuse it, hardly a tithepayer in Wales will be able to take his case before a jury. The great majority of the cases arising under the Act will be under £3. In the largest agricultural county in Wales, Carmarthenshire, the average of the tithe is a little over £3, in another county it is £2 15s., and in a third £2 11s. The County Court jurisdiction runs up to the sum of £50; under the Employers' Liability Act it is up to £300, and on the equity side it goes up as high as £500. I take it, 223 when the £5 limit was fixed it was intended that the poorest litigants should have the right to a jury. Now, these tithe cases are not without a political significance. The noble Lord the Member for Darwen the other evening seemed to deny that they were of a political character, and he went on to make the astounding statement that if they were of a political character then a Judge was the best tribunal to deal with them, and not a jury.
§ VISCOUNT CRANBORNE (Lancashire, N. E., Darwen)
What I said was that they ought not to be of a political character; but that if political feeling were improperly imported into them, then it would be better for a Judge to deal with them than to have a jury.
§ MR. RANDELL
I fail to see the distinction between my version of the noble Lord's remarks and the one he has just given. I maintain that these cases are not without political significance, and that, therefore, juries form the best tribunals to deal with them. There is another reason why the Government should concede this, namely, that I think, with one exception, the County Court Judges in the Principality of Wales—and I cast no reflection upon them for it—are English-speaking gentlemen, without any knowledge whatever of the Welsh language. It is, therefore, of importance that in matters like these they should have the intervention of a jury who understand both languages. Under the existing system, the evidence has often to be interpreted, and is very imperfectly translated. If the Government do not accept the clause, I must press my Motion to a Division.
§ Clause (Trial by Jury,)—(Mr. David Randell,)—brought up, and read the first time.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause be read a second time."
§ (4.49.) SIR M. HICKS BEACH
I am sorry that the hon. Member has thought it necessary to raise this matter, because it has been very fully discussed already in Committee, and all the arguments which he has now employed have been adduced before. I have listened carefully to his remarks, and I do not think he has added anything to his previous arguments. With regard to 224 those small sums below £5, there is no particular grievance so far as Wales is concerned, because tithes to the like amount are to be found in every parish in England. I could name parishes where the number of small sums payable as tithe are quite as numerous as in any place named by the hon. Member. If the clause is accepted, there will be one law for the recovery of debts generally under £5, and another when the sums are due for tithe rent-charge, and I certainly see no reason why such a distinction should be drawn.
§ (4.51.) MR. G. OSBORNE MORGAN (Denbighshire, E.)
I certainly cannot understand what the noble Lord the Member for Darwen meant by the distinction he drew between proper and improper political feeling. Probably he would say that Liberal political feeling was improper and Conservative proper political feeling. It is quite clear that some sort of feeling, whether ecclesiastical or political, does enter into the matter. As my hon. Friend said, if the Government do not accept the new clause, there will, in Wales, be practically no right to a jury at all, because in almost every case the amount in dispute will be under £5. The desire to have the matter tried by a jury does not depend upon the amount at all; it is a question of principle; and if the cases are tried by men who do not understand the Welsh language, the defendants will think they have not been fairly treated. The clause is in the interest of the County Court Judges themelves, who, I am sure, would desire to shift the responsibility to a jury. I may point out that the clause does not compel the parties to go to the expense of a jury: it will be optional.
§ (4.53.) MR. J. L. MORGAN (Carmarthan, W.)
If the Government desire that this Act shall work smoothly and easily, they would do well to accept this reasonable suggestion. We are told that the Welsh people will not suffer any grievance by reason of its rejection, but we know now that the average of the payment is about £3, so that a jury will be refused in nearly every case. The case of England is entirely distinct from that of Wales, because there the tithe payments are usually very much in excess of £5. Therefore the English tithepayer will be able, if he desires, to have 225 his case tried before a jury—a privilege refused to the Welsh tithepayer. I should be the last man in this House to impugn the impartiality of the County Court Judges in Wales. I never have done so, and I hope I never shall. But that is not the question we have now to consider. The question is whether or not the people who are to be brought into the County Court will believe they will get justice if they are refused a jury. The Welsh tithepayers are a body of men most anxious to meet their just liabilities, but the tithe is a burden, the bearing of which they object to on moral grounds. Probably they have never before been brought into contact with the County Court, and they do not understand the English language; but if they have a jury it will go far to assure them that they will get justice, and they will not leave the Courts grumbling at the Judge and throwing out the suggestion that the case has not been properly tried. I hope the Government will accept this new clause.
§ (4.57.) SIR W. HARCOURT
It is quite true, as the right hon. Gentleman has suggested, that this question has been already discussed in Committee, but the whole object of our proceedings is that we shall have, not vexatiously, but on questions of principle, an opportunity of challenging the decision of the Committee. This is an important matter, although it may not be necessary to go into it at length; but it depends upon what we are going to do, whether this County Court jurisdiction is to be a blessing or a curse. Are you going to make that jurisdiction fall more heavily on the tithepayers? This matter affects the County Court just as much as it does the tithepayers. The County Court is, on the whole, a great blessing to the poorer classes; it is an efficient and, on the whole, a cheap method of recovering debt, and on that account we ought, if we can, to maintain the character and the popularity of the County Court in the country. But now what are you going to do? You are going to make the County Court the instrument, practically speaking, of fighting a political battle. That will be extremely injurious to the County Court, for the County Court Judge will then become, as it were, the protagonist in the tithe war in Wales. If you leave 226 him the undivided responsibility you will inflict an immense injury on his position. In the interest of the County Court Judges, then, it is desirable the responsibility should rest, as far as possible, upon a jury. In the general administration of the law in this country it has been an enormous advantage to the Judiciary to have a jury to share the responsibility of decisions. There cannot be the smallest doubt that the measure as it stands will place the County Court Judge in a position of immense difficulty in this class of cases. It has been observed by a noble Lord on the other side that in political cases it is better to leave the decision to a Judge without a jury. But you are not going to exclude the jury from political cases where the sum involved exceeds £5. If a man happens to belong to the wealthier classes he can have a jury. In England the larger proportion of cases being over £5 there will be a right to a jury; but in Wales the poor tithepayers will hardly ever have a jury at all. That is a distinction extremely invidious. For these reasons the Government should re-consider their decision. They ought to reflect how their scheme will operate upon County Court jurisdiction. Upon the decision of the Government will depend whether or not we shall offer a strong resistance to the whole Bill, or at any rate to the County Court Clause. I am not in favour of County Courting the tithepayers throughout the country. You must take adequate guarantees that the County Court jurisdiction shall not be made oppressive. It is most important that in transferring the jurisdiction we should leave no elements of vexation that can be avoided. From the point of view of mitigating the difficulties of litigation it is most reasonable that in all cases the parties should have a right to a jury. You do not deny that right if the tithe payable is over £5. The Government say they are not enforcing a new principle. But my reply is that for the first time you are putting tithes under the County Court jurisdiction, and that in itself is a reason for considering how to make that jurisdiction least oppressive. I am quite sure, from what I know of the character of this question, both in England and in Wales, that this Act will give rise to serious friction, which will injure not only the interests 227 of the parties, but also your County Court jurisdiction. Under these circumstances, I hope the Government will seriously consider their position with regard to this matter; at all events, there is only one course open to the Opposition, and that is to offer a most earnest protest, and to place on record the fact that we have contended strenuously with the Government to secure for the poor people of Wales a right to a jury in all cases arising out of tithe.
§ (5.9.) MR. J. BOWEN ROWLANDS (Cardiganshire)
I had hoped that in the interval which has elapsed since this matter was last discussed the Government would have seriously reflected on the position in which they find themselves, and have come to the conclusion that they would best serve their own interests by conceding this point. I contend that the Government, by conceding the Amendment, will serve, first, the interests of those to whom is confided the administration of justice in tithe questions, namely, the County Court Judges, who would gladly see themselves rescued from the invidious position of acting both as Judges of law and fact in the new and delicate administration intrusted to them; secondly, they will advance the interests of the people of Wales, because by far the great majority of cases arising in the Principality will involve sums of less than £5; and, lastly, they will serve their own interests, because there is much objection to the alteration of the law proposed by them of bringing the recovery of tithe within the County Court jurisdiction. Everything should be avoided which will tend to keep alive the dissatisfaction felt with this new mode of dealing with unpaid tithe, and it would give confidence to the people, and enable the Act to work smoothly, if this Amendment were accepted. In face of these advantages, to what disadvantages can the Government point? What is there to justify them in refusing to accept this Amendment? We have been told by an hon. Member opposite that a Judge is the best tribunal where political considerations are properly or improperly imported into a case. Now, whilst placing on record my belief that the County Court Judges in Wales will do their best to administer the law impartially, may I point out it is impossible for them to disentangle themselves 228 from those prejudices which belong to them as men. If juries are prejudiced, so also Judges may be, and in choosing between the two it is well to select the tribunal most likely to have the confidence of the general public. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, whose courtesy we have had so much pleasure in acknowledging in these Debates, says we have advanced no new arguments; that may be taken, perhaps, as a tribute to the exhaustive nature of the arguments before adduced. It is clear, however, our arguments have not had the effect we hoped for. We believe this is a vital question, and we still hope that the Government will reconsider their decision, for they have not shown any disadvantages likely to arise from the concession.
§ (5.15.) SIR M. HICKS BEACH
The remarks I addressed to the House upon this subject have been misunderstood. It has been assumed that if this Amendment is not accepted, cases under £5 will be precluded from trial by a jury, This is not so at all. My proposal is that in all actions where the amount claimed does not exceed £5 it shall be lawful for the Judge, on the application of either party, to order that such action shall be tried by jury. Therefore, if the Judge thinks fit, he will order a jury in cases under £5.
§ MR. J. BOWEN ROWLANDS
That is so, but we say the right should be absolute, and that it should not be left in the discretion of the Judge.
§ (5.17.) SIR J. SWINBURNE (Staffordshire, Lichfield)
The only objection to this clause put forward by the Government is that it will alter the County Court procedure. But I think that as the Bill will introduce an entirely new means of collecting the tithe, and a more expensive means than formerly, the right of a jury should be given in all cases, especially as the larger number of tithe claims are for amounts under £5. I can conceive no valid objection on the part of the Government to granting the privilege asked for. I do hope the President of the Board of Trade will re-consider his decision.
§ (5.19.) MR. S. T. EVANS
If we have said nothing new in favour of the clause, the Government have said nothing new against it. It appears to me that the objection of the Government to the 229 clause is simply an academical one, for they will not grant the concession because it is not in the County Court Act at present. But the right hon. Member for Derby has fully answered that objection, because, as he stated, a new jurisdiction is to be given to the County Court. What harm can possibly follow from the acceptance of the new clause? On the contrary, you will, by agreeing to it, preserve respect for the County Court Judge, and you will keep up the sympathy which now exists between the Judiciary and the suitors in the Court. It has not been shown that a single disadvantage will result from granting trial by jury in cases under £5, and I cannot understand why the Government so obstinately oppose it. Why should you make this difference between a claim for £5 0s. 1d. and one for £4 19s. 11d.? The objection of the Government is a purely pedantic one. Moreover, by the terms of the clause the right in such cases will be optional, and thus the point of expense falls to the ground. Surely if a plaintiff or defendant thinks he will have a better hearing with a jury, and chooses to pay the additional expense, he should in common fairness be allowed the privilege of a jury as well as in cases of more than £5. If the Government accept the clause they will facilitate the passing of this Bill. Can the Attorney General point out any disadvantage likely to arise from the adoption of the clause? If not, do not let us have it.
§ (5.23.) MR. WARMINGTON (Monmouth, W.)
I look on the clause as a sedative, which will allay the irritation likely to be caused by the Bill. By adopting it the collection of tithe will be made less distasteful. It will tend to the smooth working of the Act, and remove the natural irritation which will otherwise arise, especially among the small tithepayers, against the County Court system of collection. It will, moreover, relieve the Judges of a responsibility which I am sure they will have no desire to exercise. I number many of those Judges among my personal friends; and, speaking from their point of view, I say this duty if cast upon them will be a very distasteful one, and they would hail with pleasure the intervention of a jury. If the clause is not accepted you will have different practices in different dis- 230 tricts. One Judge will allow a jury in cases under £5, and another Judge in the adjoining district may not, and there again will be cause for dissatisfaction. Again, if there is a right to a jury, a tithepayer will not necessarily demand one, but he will know if the decision of the Court goes against him it was only by his consent that the Judge adjudicated. The acceptance of this clause will take from the Judges a responsibility, the exercise of which would be most unpopular, and will throw it upon the class of people by whom the tithe has to be paid. I think that, under these circumstances, the Government should agree to the clause.
§ (5.27.) COLONEL HUGHES (Woolwich)
What particular point would have to be decided by a jury in these cases? That is a question I wish to put to hon. Members opposite. If a case goes into a County Court the only questions to be decided are those of apportionment and ownership. It is not like a running down or right of way case, in which there may be a conflict of evidence. I am perfectly certain the Judges of County Courts in England and Wales will be quite ready to exercise any responsibility the Legislature may place upon them, and will have no desire to evade it. I confess that I see no necessity for juries in these tithe cases at all, whatever the amount. The main points for decision will be for the Court, and not for a jury. The only thing for which a jury could be called in would be to say whether tithe shall be paid at all—that is for us—and surely it cannot be said that such a course will facilitate the recovery of tithe. It might lead to numerous disagreements of juries, and destroy the chance of recovering tithe. I have not heard a single argument to justify the adoption of the clause, and I fear that if it is accepted it will only open up new and serious sources of trouble.
§ (5.29.) MR. F. S. STEVENSON (Suffolk, Eye)
The argument of the hon. Member for Woolwich applies with as much force to cases over £5 as to cases under £5. If the clause is carried there will not be one law for England and another for Wales, though no doubt appeals to a jury will be of more frequent occurrence in Wales than in 231 England. I trust that some answer will be given by the Government—by one of the Law Officers of the Crown—to the question raised by the hon. Member for Glamorganshire. The objections stated by the Government to having a jury in cases under £5 have been most extraordinary. After all, it is not a difference of principle that is involved at all. The difference is one merely of degree. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade (Sir M. Hicks Beach) hinted that he was not in favour of having one law for England and another for Wales. If this clause were carried that would not be the case, because there would be one law only for the whole of Great Britain in this matter. I cannot agree with the suggestion that the clause should be made applicable only to Wales, because there are many cases in England in which the amount of the tithe is very small, although in comparison with the aggregate amount paid the number of cases of small payments in Wales is no doubt larger than in England. But if this concession is made in Wales I do not see why it should not also be made in England. An answer to those who raise objections to the clause on the ground that it would be rarely made use of can be supplied from the lips of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade himself. In one of the earlier stages of this Debate it was urged on this side of the House that the benefits of Clause 3 could not be obtained by the tithepayer except in cases where the matter had been brought before the County Court, and the right hon. Gentleman contended that in the great majority of cases the matter would not be brought before the County Court at all, but would be settled amicably. Probably in practice the number of appeals under this clause would not be as large as is anticipated in some quarters; but, on the other hand, the probability is that when they were made some important question of principle would be involved, and it is very difficult to see why a distinction should be drawn in this respect between cases of over £5 and cases involving less than that amount. The only result following upon the rejection of this clause 232 will be the same as that which will follow upon the rejection of the Amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon (Mr. Lloyd-George), namely, that the settlement of these questions will be relegated as far as possible to a sphere in which the tithepayers will have no power whatever, and in which those who are responsible for the decision cannot be made amenable to public opinion on the spot. I think you are placing an extremely invidious task in the hands of the County Court Judges, and one which will recoil not only on those who perform these invidious duties, but on the Government which has cast such duties upon them.
§ (5.34.) MR. LLOYD-GEORGE (Carnarvon, &c.)
I think I am correct in saying that tithe is assessed on the whole farm. Now, suppose a case in which a farm is split up into allotments amongst six or seven different proprietors. Whenever the tithe owner sues for tithe in such a case questions of the amount to be paid by each man, and boundary and other questions will have to be decided by a jury. This is not a mere conjectural case, because I was myself consulted in a case where one little peasant proprietor had for 30 or 40 years paid tithe on land which belonged to another owner, the tithe not having been properly allocated and assessed. I believe that such cases frequently arise, especially in Wales, and therefore I say that the proposed clause is specially applicable to Wales. The right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill has complained that we are reiterating the arguments we used in the Committee stage. That is not our fault. To not one of those arguments did the Government attempt to give a reply, and they did not even allude to them categorically. I think I am correct in saying that the learned Attorney General made the only speech on behalf of the Government, and that he made no attempt whatever to reply to the several speeches delivered on this side of the House. One of the arguments put forward was that the judgment in a case, which in itself involved only a question of £1, might decide the principle raised in 40 or 50 separate cases brought before the Court on that day. Why, it was asked, should there not be a jury 233 in a case of that kind? Another argument that has not been answered is based upon the fact that in a civil debt case of £5 the defendant may demand a jury, and the Court has no option in the matter. In a tithe case it must be remembered that the payment involved is an annual payment, and I do not see why any distinction should be made between cases in which £3 or £4 and those in which £5 or £6 is involved. Under the circumstances, I think we are right in pressing the clause to a Division.
§ (5.59.) MR. ABRAHAM (Glamorgan, Rhondda)
Although we are not able to bring forward new arguments which are conclusive enough, in the opinion of Gentlemen on the Treasury Bench, to justify them in acceding to our proposals, we are bound to carry out our duty to our countrymen. If we cannot any further argue the question with the Government, I am not ashamed to stand here and appeal to them on behalf of my fellow countrymen, against whom this Bill is directed. I am not ashamed of saying again that unless this clause is granted to us our people will not be upon equal ground with the English people in these matters. It is not sufficient to tell us that we cannot be dealt with differently from people in Yorkshire or in other large English counties. We say there is a great difference between the two cases. There is in Wales a strong repugnance to the payment of an impost for which the people receive no service. Indeed, we go further, and say there is a strong repugnance to keeping alive a class of people who will not work for their living. These people demand pull pay, although they do no work for it. We find on inquiry that four-fifths of the amounts in dispute in Wales will not be sufficiently large to secure the empannelling of a jury, whereas in England three-fourths of the tithes will be large enough to entitle the persons concerned to claim a jury without the option of the Judge. How can it be said, under such circumstances, that the two peoples are upon an equal footing? Again, I cannot refrain from referring to the right of all citizens to be tried by their fellow-countrymen, and in this respect there will be some inequality between the English and the Welsh. Three-fourths 234 of the English people concerned in the payment of tithe will have the right to be tried by their peers, whereas you refuse the same right to four-fifths of the Welsh people, who are quite as law-abiding as the English. For these reasons we again ask the Government, if they despise our arguments, to listen to our appeal. If they want the law to be obeyed, let them help us to make this Bill work as smoothly as possible in the Principality. This Bill is about to be passed against the expressed wish and desire of five-sixths of the Representatives of Wales, and the remaining sixth do not care to come here to represent their constituents. There could not be a stronger indication of the real feeling of the Principality than the fact that the few Welsh Members who sit on the opposite Benches dare not say a word in support of the Bill. By this Bill you are only making a scourge for the people's backs, because 10,000 Bills would not change Welshmen's opinions as to your right to tithe.
§ (5.44.) THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir R. WEBSTER, Isle of Wight)
I assure the hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. W. Abraham) that we have no wish whatever to despise the arguments of the Welsh Members; neither have we any desire, as the hon. Member for the Eye Division (Mr. F. Stevenson) seemed to impute to us, to avoid the control of public opinion. But it must be borne in mind that the question to be tried is not whether tithe ought to be levied, but simply whether the land in question is subject to tithe, and whether or not tithe ought to be paid. There cannot be one case in a hundred in which there should be any political feeling, or which ought to be controlled by public opinion. As to the trial by jury of causes in the County Court, hon. Members know perfectly well that frequently applications are made to the County Court Judge for a jury, and that after looking into the circumstances he orders one to be empannelled. Depend upon it, if the County Court Judges feel they may, in certain cases, be accused of political bias, they will be the first to recognise the wisdom of empannelling a jury. But, knowing, as we do, that not only in Wales, but in England, there are in some parishes hundreds of tithe- 235 payers, and that the tithe only amounts to a few shillings, we cannot see any reason why there ought to be any deviation from the ordinary rules applicable to the cases of small debts in County Courts.
§ MR. F. S. STEVENSON
My contention with regard to public opinion was that if you allow public opinion to be brought to bear on juries in cases of sums over £5, yon cannot consistently exclude public opinion in the case of sums of less than £5.
§ (5.48.) SIR G. TREVELYAN (Glasgow, Bridgeton)
The Attorney General has stated very moderately his reasons for refusing to agree to this Amendment, and in view of his moderation I am surprised the Government do not accept the clause. We have been accused of the reiteration of arguments; but there is a new argument which, drawn as it is from experience in this House, will, I think, appeal to hon. Members: it is the argument of the Division List. It is really extraordinary that when you have, with one single exception, the whole body of Welsh Members supporting a request that there should be granted in these cases the right of trial by jury, the House of Commons should reject the proposal. Suppose that all the Representatives of our shipping ports, with the exception of one hon. Gentleman, were to protest against some Bill with regard to shipping which the Government had brought in, would the Government force that Bill through the House? Or if all the county Members of England were to protest against a Local Government Bill, is it credible that any Government would force the measure down their throats? It seems to me the Welsh Members have very good reason for the stand they are taking. This Bill is, as regards England, comparatively unimportant. It is true it will alter the incidence of tithe and will really be a nuisance to a good many landowners, but in Wales the case will be more serious. In Wales there will be a forcing of the consciences of the people, and here I come to the main argument of the Attorney General. He says that in the cases that will come before the County Courts no public opinion will be involved. Public opinion of the most important kind will be involved, namely, the public opinion 236 of the community as to whether the judgment is a just one or not. You have not to consider the judgment only, but you have to consider what will follow the judgment. The execution of the judgment will be carried out under circumstances which we know occasionally involve disorder. By whom will the cases of disorder be tried? It may be by the County Court Judge proceeding by way of contempt of Court. The County Court Judge is an official against whom I can say nothing except that he is a lawyer with a lawyer's ideas of these matters and a lawyer's feeling that he must administer the strict letter of the law without regard to the conscience or politics of the people. Or the cases will be tried by Justices of the Peace, and who are the Justices of the Peace in Wales? There are counties in the Principality where four-fifths of the people are Nonconformists, where Nonconformity and the Church come into serious conflict, and yet where not three, not two, of the Justices of the Peace are Nonconformists; sometimes there is not even one Nonconformist on the Bench. It is the original decision which settles what amount of tithe shall be paid, and we ask that in all cases a jury may be granted if either party desires it. The Government acknowledged in the most handsome manner a day or two ago that there had been no obstruction of the Bill on these Benches. Since then, however, we have had Debates and Divisions of a very different character, because the Government have come to the point of resistance. I believe the Government would do well to give way on this point. I do not quarrel with the speeches they have made in favour of their view, but I say they have not argued in a manner to show it is of any serious importance whatever. I am told by hon. Gentlemen who know Wales that the question whether these disorders shall be serious or light depends a great deal on whether the people are handled in a kindly and considerate manner or not. The Government would do well to imitate on a large scale the example of those Chief Constables and Magistrates who have shown consideration on a small scale, and give way to the universal request of the Welsh Representatives.
§ (6.0.) MR. KNOX (Cavan, W.)
I know hon. Members are anxious for a Division, so I will only occupy a few minutes in speaking in support of this Amendment. An hon. Member has asked what are the questions of fact a jury may have to determine, and I suppose he will admit that on a difficult question of fact it is proper that a jury should determine. Well, I hope after the speech of the Attorney General the hon. Member will support the Amendment, for the Attorney General has shown that there are questions of fact to determine—difficult questions of fact relating to identity of parcels and other similar matters. I notice that the framers of the County Court rules have recognised the necessity of trial by jury in similar cases already. In the case of an action for the recovery of land a jury may be demanded by a defendant in any case, and the questions of fact in these cases are very often precisely those questions which will have to be determined under this Bill. If it be considered desirable that a defendant in an action for the recovery of land should be entitled to a jury, why in the name of common sense should these farmers be deprived of that right when questions of precisely the same nature have to be determined here? We are told there will be no question of fact suitable for a jury to determine, and yet at the same time the Government have consented that in all cases over £5 a jury may be empannelled. Why should there be a different law for the rich and poor? Why should not the small farmer have the same right to a jury on questions of fact as the large farmer has? Over or above £5 the issues would be precisely the same. The Attorney General dealt somewhat lightly with the powerful argument of the hon. Member for Carnarvon as to the fact that in these cases it would largely be a question of capitalised value which would have to be determined. The Attorney General says it would be open to the defendant to raise the same question year after year when asked to pay his tithe, and that, of course, as a matter of theory, is perfectly true; but, as a matter of practice, we may be pretty confident that when the County Court Judge has 238 decided a case one year, involving (say) a troublesome question as to identity of parcels, the Judge will not treat with much consideration a defendant who, by his action, insists on having the same question raised again in the following year. As a matter of fact we know the same question would not and could not be raised year after year. In the jurisdiction of the County Court the difference between an annual payment and a total payment has been recognised. Up to 1888 the limit of actions of ejectment was £20, but in other matters £50. Why this distinction? Evidently because the Legislature considered the limit should be smaller where the annual value was affected. Why not apply the same principle in this case? There is one other matter to which I should like to refer, as it is to some extent connected with the working of a system of small farming with which I am acquainted, perhaps, better than many hon. Members who do not know the conditions of small farming, and how trying these conditions may be in a hard year. For instance, the loss of a cow may handicap a small farmer most severely in one year, and on such an occasion the considerate tithe collector, the parson who does not wish to be at loggerheads with all his parishioners will grant more time for the payment of the tithe. But if doing this makes the difference between an amount due of over or under £5, then the parson will be tempted to sue at once, because he may desire to avoid a jury, thinking that the judgment of the Court without a jury is more likely to be in favour of the tithe owner than the tithepayer. As a matter of practice I think this might press heavily on small tithepayers. We have been told the Amendment would allow a jury to be empannelled on merely frivolous grounds, but a defendant will, if he has a jury, where his defence is frivolous, have to pay 5s. in addition to his other costs, and I do not suppose a man to whom such sums would be of great importance will be foolish enough to incur this fine unless he feels there is some question of fact which in justice a jury ought to determine. I think our Welsh friends are right in pressing this Amendment; they are 239 fighting an issue similar to one we have had to fight in Irish Courts of Justice, and ultimately in the House of Commons.
§ (6.10.) MR. FLYNN (Cork, N.)
I join in encouraging our Welsh friends to press this Amendment. I have listened carefully to the arguments on this clause, and to the discussions we had in Committee, and it seems to me the arguments of the hon. Members for Wales are unanswerable. Undoubtedly this tithe Bill has especial interest to Wales; the question of tithe is a burning one there, and without such safeguards as these I am afraid this Bill will be regarded in Wales as a measure of coercion. I contend that this is not, as the Attorney. General would have us believe it is, a question of legal nicety; there is a great principle involved, and we shall give Welsh Members our strenuous support. The Attorney General made a great point of the raising of frivolous actions in Welsh Courts on these tithe questions if the clause were adopted, but I do not see, because it is possible that the operation of a law may be abused in a few isolated cases, that this safeguard should be refused to the Welsh people on this subject on which they feel so intensely. If many cases arise of amounts under £5, that will be because the people have such strong feelings on the subject. Estimable as many of the County Court Judges may be as men, and excellent Judges on questions of law as in ordinary cases they may be, we may well conceive that there may be in Wales, as I know there are in Ireland, cases in which County Court Judges do not act as they do towards other cases. I know in Cork a County Court Judge of high character, but in any case where in the smallest and most remote degree the National League in concerned this Judge is hopelessly prejudiced. I can conceive that the same thing may happen in Wales in relation to the tithe question, and hence I think this clause most desirable. I really cannot understand why the Government should so obstinately resist the Amendment.
§ (6.15.) MR. ABEL THOMAS (Carmarthen, E.)
I hope that even yet the Attorney General may see his way to accept the Amendment. I am sure hon. members on the other side cannot have 240 so much experience of County Court juries as we have, or they would not have the fear of them they seem to entertain. In the tens of thousands of cases dealt with by County Courts in England and Wales at the present time not five in a thousand are tried by jury. I can speak from personal knowledge of the Courts in Wales, and I can say, in Cardiff, for instance, not more than one in a thousand cases goes before a jury, and, when there is such a case, it is because character is at stake, or it is a heavy liability action. If we have this Amendment inserted, it is utterly absurd to suppose that for more than one in a hundred of these tithe cases a jury will be summoned. It will only be when some case has caused great local excitement, and when there are oaths against oaths, and the opinion of a jury would be useful. Why is it to be imagined that Welshmen will be so foolish as to summon a jury in every tithe action where amounts of 20, or 30, or 40 shillings are concerned? It will only be done in cases where much feeling is excited in the neighbourhood, and on occasions when it will be the best thing for the Court that there should be a jury. There are in my recollection two tithe cases tried in Wales last autumn, cases in which I was engaged, and which caused a considerable amount of excitement. One of these was a question of illegal distress for tithe, and the other was an assault upon a bailiff. In both cases we had a jury; there was conflicting evidence on oath, half a dozen witnesses swearing different ways. In both actions the jury gave a verdict in favour of the tithe owner, not the tithepayer, and I venture to think that if a County Court Judge had given the verdict the jury gave in either case he would have been hooted throughout the length and breadth of the Principality, but the fact that a jury of their own countrymen had given the verdict settled the whole matter so far as the opinion of the people in the district was concerned, and I do not think the justice of the decision has been called in question. Only in extreme cases would the power of calling a jury be used, and in cases where it would be the greatest blessing for the Judges themselves. The people would know that Nonconformists and Churchmen would be represented 241 on the jury, and that it would be an honest verdict according to the evidence. There could be no possible harm in the arrangement; the Amendment cannot injure the efficacy of the Bill, and it will give satisfaction to the vast majority of the Welsh people.
§ (6.21.) MR. STUART RENDEL (Montgomeryshire)
The feeling in favour of the Amendment is unanimous among Welsh Members, and those who have spoken in support of it have had practical experience in relation to these matters and to County Court proceedings. The force of the arguments used must be acknowledged, and I trust the Government will yet yield on this point of principle we consider it our duty to urge. If we cannot succeed in inducing the Government to accept this modification of County Court jurisdiction then we shall have to move the omission of the jurisdiction of that Court altogether. We have not been without encouragement in the Committee discussion; the majority against us dwindled to a remarkable degree. I hope the Government will yet accept the proposal and that we shall be saved the necessity of going to a division.
§ (6.23.) SIR M. HICKS BEACH
May I appeal to the House now to come to a Division? We entirely appreciate the ability with which the Amendment has been urged. We have listened attentively to the arguments, but I am sorry to say we cannot accept the Amendment.
§ (6.25.) The House divided:—Ayes 149; Noes 200.—(Div. List, No. 37.)
§ (6.36.) MR. D. RANDELL
I beg to move the new clause which stands next in my name, and which is directed against the awarding of costs on the higher scale. I would point out what may be the result if some such clause be not inserted. In one case where only three guineas were recovered, the taxed costs of the successful litigant amounted to the sum of £19 14s. In another case, where £5 was recovered, the costs were as high as £35; in another they were £41, and in a case tried the other day, in which tithe amounting to 2s. 10d. was involved, the taxed costs of the plaintiff and defendant reached a sum exceeding £100. I say that the Bill 242 would place too much power on this point in the hands of the County Court Judges. It is true that the Government have met us with respect to the costs to a certain extent by proposing to insert a schedule of costs in the Bill, but unless Section 119 of the County Court Act is made inoperative by the insertion of a special clause in the Bill, that will be of no use whatever, because it will always be in the power of the County Court Judges to award costs capriciously on a mere statement, that in his opinion the action involves a novel point of law, or that the litigation is of special or public importance. When a suggestion was made in this House some few evenings ago, that novel points of law might be involved, the Attorney General demurred, and therefore I assume that the Government do not anticipate that such novel points will come within the operation of the Bill. If the Government are sincere, as I take them to be, in this matter of keeping down costs to the lowest possible amount, I hope they will accept the clause.
§ New Clause (Costs,)—(Mr. David Randell,)—brought up, and read the first time
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause be read a second time."
§ (6.40.) SIR R. WEBSTER
I regret that I am not able to offer the hon. Member any encouragement. His argument was a little inconsistent with what has already occurred. He appealed very strongly to us the other day to allow an appeal on all questions, because points of law might be raised. I expressed the view at the time that the right of appeal was already given, but in deference to the wish of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby (Sir W. Harcourt) and others, we inserted in the clause a provision enabling an appeal to be made beyond all question. Now I ask the House to consider what this Amendment is. No one suggests that the County Court Judge will wantonly allow costs on the higher scale. No one will suggest that Section 114 of the County Courts Act has been in any way abused, and I should say that it is only in the rarest circumstances that the 243 County Court Judge will exercise the power possessed by him. A case has been suggested in which a farm has been purchased by two owners, and a difficult question of tithe, or a question involving the rights of a class is raised and a test case has to be tried. I ask whether any suggestion can be made by hon. Gentlemen opposite which would lead us to come to the conclusion that a County Court Judge would knowingly certify in writing that an action involved a novel or delicate point of law when it did nothing of the kind? It has been held in the County Court Acts that in order to prevent defences being raised which put the plaintiffs to expenses they ought not to be asked to incur, the County Court Judge should have this power. The power is essential in the interest of the tithepayer as well as the tithe owner. The tithepayer may be put to great expense in proving a point of law, and in his desire to get a certificate from the Judge may point out that his case is a representative one, and that the decision affects not only himself but 40 or 50 other people occupying portions of the same freehold; and yet, if this clause were passed, the County Court Judge would be debarred from certifying for exceptional costs. It seems to me that the clause would be unfair both to the tithe owner and the tithepayer, as well as contrary to the claim made by hon. Gentlemen opposite on the question of appeal, and I am, therefore, afraid we must refuse our assent to it.
§ (6.45.) MR. S. T. EVANS
I think the attitude taken up by the Attorney General is inconsistent with his position on the last clause we debated, when his argument was that where the amount in dispute is small, the principle involved cannot be large, and, therefore, should not be referred to a jury.
§ MR. S. T. EVANS
But the argument now is that though the amount in dispute may be small, there may be important points of law raised, and the Judge should have power to impose heavy costs on either party. We have heard a case quoted by my hon. Friend in which the amount in dispute was only a few pounds, but, yet, the costs 244 amounted to £100. I do not know whether any one will get up and say that however novel the point of law that was raised, or however much a body or class of persons was affected, the costs were commensurate with the claim. The Government have put down a scale of fees to be allowed in cases under this measure. I am not going to discuss that scale now, but I may be allowed to point out that it will be entirely inoperative if you permit the Judge to certify for exceptionally heavy costs on the plea that a novel point of law has been raised. We are bonâ fide in supporting this clause, because the Attorney General has pointed out that a novel point of law may be raised by the defendant as well as the plaintiff. We, as representing the tithepayer, say that whether the point of law is raised by the defendant or the plaintiff, we do not wish to see heavy costs saddled on either party. In view of the important discussions which have been raised on the matter of costs, I trust the Government will see that there is no reason why our proposal should not be accepted. I have never been able to make out why this power of certifying for heavy costs should be given under any Act at all. This discussion will be useful if it only brings out the fact, which I think is admitted, that the County Court costs under the ordinary scale are far heavier than they ought to be. Do not let us, under this new procedure, have a heavier scale of costs applicable to the small sums with which the Court will have to deal under this Bill.
§ (6.49.) MR. G. OSBORNE MORGAN
This question was considered in the Committee over which I had the honour of presiding, and the 119th clause of the existing Act was adopted after full discussion. But in this case we must bear in mind the circumstances of the litigants. It would be ruin to many of the Welsh farmers to have to pay £100 costs in a tithe case. The Government will, I think, do well to accept the clause.
§ (6.50.) MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
The argument used by the Attorney General in opposition to the clause is a complete refutation of the argument he used against the previous clause. I ventured then to instance a case where the farm was divided into so many allotments, 245 and where there would be an opportunity of contesting the distribution of the tithe over the different lots. The learned Attorney General completely ignored that argument. He did not even allude to it in his reply; but now, when it suits his purpose, he uses it as a special argument in opposition to the clause moved by my hon. Friend. I venture to declare that in very few cases of that kind will the question of apportionment resolve itself into a point of law. It will always be a question of fact; so that for every 10 cases that would suit the argument of the Attorney General there will be hundreds of cases that would suit my argument. The Attorney General has confined himself exclusively to points of law; but I would point out that this clause refers to cases not merely in which complicated points of law are raised, but also in which questions of general public importance are involved. In Wales, every case that is tried will raise questions of general public importance. Every payment of tithe in itself is a matter of general public importance; so much so that the Government have framed a schedule of costs, and I submit that unless this clause is adopted that schedule of costs will be altogether futile. I think that, even if the Government refuse to withdraw questions in which legal points are involved from the power and competence of the County Court Judge, they should certainly withdraw cases of more general public importance which do not involve complicated points of law.
§ (6.54.) COLONEL HUGHES
I would point out to the Mover of the clause that by his proposal he seeks to prevent extra costs being imposed on the defendant, but not on the plaintiff.
§ (6.55.) MR. A. WILLIAMS
It certainly would seem that if this clause is not accepted the schedule of costs will be useless, and it is difficult to discuss the present proposal without going into the question of the schedule. What we want is to adopt a principle, and to lay down guiding rules under which it would be impossible in a County Court action, or in a claim brought under this Act, under any 246 excuse whatever, to have a large bill of costs on either side. It was with the view of preventing the possibility of that that the Amendment has been framed. Do the Government mean to grapple with this question of costs so as to lay down a minimum of fees? Even if questions of law are raised, care should be taken that they are settled without imposing heavy costs on plaintiff or defendant. Sooner or later the Government will have to give the County Court law to the people free from the possibility of these shameful lawyer's costs, of which we have heard to-night, and if they do not make a beginning in the present instance all their promises are futile.
§ (7.0.) The House divided:—Ayes 135; Noes 187.—(Div. List, No. 38.)
§ (7.12.) MR. T. M. HEALY (Longford, N.)
I beg to move the following Clause:—No person shall be imprisoned for contempt for anything in contravention of the powers conferred by this Act longer than one month.I hope that it will be possible for the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade to accept this Amendment. The right hon. Gentleman must be aware that this question is one which has occupied the attention of Parliament for a considerable period. I propose that you should introduce a change in the law as to the length of the term of imprisonment—a change which has already been sanctioned in principle in another place. The Government are probably familiar with the fact that a Bill passed through the House of Lords dealing with the general question of contempt, in the year 1883. True the punishment in that Bill was limited for all offences of contempt, including ecclesiastical offences, to three months. Of course, there is this difference between that limit and my Amendment—that the latter proposes a limit of only one month. I need not say that I do not stickle very closely for a period of one month. But it has occurred to me that it would be possible for the right hon. Gentleman, and only consistent with the position which the Tory Party, who are of course in the majority in the House of Lords, took up seven years ago, with 247 regard to the power of imprisonment for contempt. This matter is one of considerable importance, not only from the point of view of Welsh Members, but from the point of view of the power of pardon by the Crown, and of the general law. The peculiarity of imprisonment for contempt, as I understand it, is this: that it has been laid down not only by the present Attorney General, but by his predecessor in the case against Belt, that there is no power vested in the Crown to pardon for contempt; and following on the lines thus laid down the Irish Law Officers, in the case of bankruptcy proceedings against Thomas Moroney, gave a similar opinion. Therefore, I think that in this case, above all others, it is desirable to put some limits on, the powers of the Judges with regard to contempt. The royal prerogative of pardon I take it cannot apply to imprisonment for contempt, and, therefore, it is possible that a prisoner might remain in gaol for the entire period of his life. At present, an ordinary bailiff could only proceed for assault, but now you are giving power to imprison for contempt, and the term of imprisonment might be equal to the man's natural life. I do not say that any County Court Judge would take such a course; still, I do think it reasonable and proper that some limit should be fixed. I have endeavoured to discuss the question solely from the legal point of view. I am not going into the general merits or demerits of the Welsh Nonconformists versus the Church of England. I have solely argued it from the point of view of the necessity of amending the procedure. I do hope Her Majesty's Government will consider it in a similar spirit. I think when you are introducing a novelty of procedure in the case of Welsh tithe, it is eminently an occasion when you should show the Welsh people that you are doing nothing to inflict upon them an unusual punishment. It is a cruel and an unusual punishment to give the Court power of perpetual imprisonment, and there is no reason in the World why the Government should not limit the power of the County Court Judge. This is not a case in which the Government should be heedlessly vindictive, for it would give the Welsh repre- 248 sentatives an opportunity of going to their constituents and saying that you had not proceeded fairly in this matter. The difference between myself and Her Majesty's Government cannot be one of principle, but one of degree. You cannot say, I think, that the County Court Judge should have the power of perpetual imprisonment, and, therefore, if you are wise in this matter you will accept the principle of my Amendment, and so at once put a stop to the discussion.
§ Clause (Imprisonment for contempt,)—(Mr. T. M. Healy,)—brought up, and read the first time.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause be read a second time."
§ (7.22.) SIR M. HICKS BEACH
I quite agree with the hon. and learned Gentleman that the question between us is merely one of degree, and that no County Court Judge should have the power of inflicting perpetual imprisonment for contempt of Court. The hon. and learned Member's view is that the sentence should not exceed one month; the view of the Government is that it should not exceed seven days. It so happens that by Section 162 of the County Court Amendment Act, 1888, no County Court Judge has any power to inflict sentences for contempt of court except for such offences as are defined in that Act. The term of imprisonment is fixed at seven days. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will see that the law already provides a stronger check on County Court Judges than does his Amendment, which provides that the imprisonment shall be for a term of one month.
§ (7.25.) MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
Although the County Court Judge may not inflict more than seven days for one offence of contempt, yet he may impose cumulative punishments for separate cases of contempt of Court, and thus be in a position to imprison a man for six weeks for six separate offences.
§ (7.26.) SIR R. WEBSTER
The only effect of discussing the hon. Member's Amendment would be that the punishment for separate offences would be greater than that for one offence. As a 249 matter of fact each offence must be separate, and there can be only seven days' imprisonment, and not more, for each offence.
§ (7.27.) MR. ARTHUR WILLIAMS
I would point out that if a person insults the Judge, or misbehaves himself in the County Court, the Judge may make out a warrant committing the man for seven days. Pending the execution of the warrant, the man may commit another contempt. ["No."] Excuse me, I am following a case which actually occurred, and in that case the man, before the warrant was executed, made a strong remonstrance against the County Court Judge for having improperly issued his warrant. That was a separate contempt. It may be that a man might commit under this Bill four or five separate contempts for which separate warrants could be made out. The suggestion of cumulative punishments, therefore, is not so absurd as it appears.
§ (7.27.) MR. T. M. HEALY
I can quite conceive that the right hon. Gentleman will not accept the clause; but will he so far meet the suggestion of my hon. Friend as to clear up the matter with respect to cumulative punishments?
§ MR. CONYBEARE (Cornwall, Camborne)
Before the Question is put, I would ask the Government if they will consider a limitation of the character of the offence which is to constitute a contempt?
§ Question put, and negatived.
§ (7.28.) MR. T. M. HEALY
I beg to move the following clause:—Where any person shall appeal from any sentence of imprisonment inflicted in consequence of resistance to and officer in the execution of this Act, or contravention of the powers conferred by this Act, or any attempt thereat, and shall appeal from such sentence, he shall be liberated on entering into securities for his appearance on the hearing of such appeal.At present a man is entitled to bail, should the Magistrate grant it. My proposal is that he should be absolutely entitled to bail, pending the appeal. I see no reason why the law in that respect should not be definite. Though the matter 250 is a very small one, I hope the Government will accept my proposal.
§ (7.29.) SIR M. HICKS BEACH
I should like to ask you, Sir, whether this comes within the scope of the Bill? The County Court Judge has no power whatever to inflict the sentences referred to in this Amendment, and I gather from the remarks of the hon. Member that his Amendment would merely apply to the Court of Summary Jurisdiction. I wish to ask whether that is within the scope of the Bill?
§ MR. SPEAKER
As far as I can understand the clause put forward, it refers to the case of an officer who is a constable, in which case the County Court would have no jurisdiction.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
I beg to call your attention to the fact, Mr. Speaker, that Amendments have been passed dealing with the question of appeals, and what I am dealing with now is the question of appeals from the Magistrates and I cannot see why bail should not be allowed pending those appeals.
§ MR. SPEAKER
If an assault is committed, and the defendant is brought before a Magistrate, then in that case this clause would apply. It would not apply to the County Court; it would apply to a Court of Summary Jurisdiction other than the County Court.
§ Clause (Appeals,)—(Mr. T. M. Healy,)—brought up, and read the first time.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause be read a second time."
§ (7.30.) SIR R. WEBSTER
I do not think the hon. Member for Longford has made out any case at all for this clause. I can assure him that, as far as I know, the practice would be unprecedented to keep a man in prison pending an appeal. The universal practice is when an appeal is pending to give bail. I cannot think it wold be wise to take away the Magistrate's discretion in an extreme case. The County Court Judge has no power or discretion in the matter. Then as a matter of general policy, and knowing it is the invariable practice to allow personal bail pending appeal, I think it would be unwise to sanction any alteration of the general 251 law. I certainly am not prepared to accept the proposal of the hon. and learned Gentleman without a much stronger case being shown.
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
I would point out that, as is the case at the present moment, there may be a question as to whether the sureties offered by the accused are worth the amount of bail demanded, and the argument applicable to an ordinary case would be equally applicable in a prosecution under this Bill. It is in the power of the Magistrates, where bail is refused, to keep the accused in custody for three months; and, consequently, it is most necessary that the accused should be able to obtain liberation on his own security. I do not see what hardship this would entail on any one. It could inflict none on the officer of the Court; the only failure of justice might be in case the accused absconded and left the country, which, from the point of view of hon. Gentlemen opopsite, would seem to be the best thing that could happen, as it would tend to decrease the number of future agitators, and would lessen the resistance offered to the Bill. I cannot see why the Government should not accept the Amendment.
§ MR. S. T. EVANS
I think the case on behalf of this proposal is stronger than the Attorney General seems to imagine. The constant answer offered from the Treasury Bench to the arguments used on this side in support of the Amendments we propose is that we are trying to alter the general law. Our reply is that it is the Government who are altering the general law, because they are pressing into the service of the tithe owners the officers of the County Court, and giving a jurisdiction to the Magistrates which they have not at present. It is not at all in consonance with our wishes to be attacking those who are engaged in the judicial business of the Principality; we do not want to reiterate time after time that the Welsh Justices belong to the landlord and the Tory class, and are not in sympathy with the people of the Principality; but we ask the Government what possible hardship can there be in liberating an accused person pending his appeal, especially as a man is supposed to be innocent until he has been proved guilty?
§ (7.37.) SIR M. HICKS BEACH
The hon. Gentleman opposite has been under some misapprehension in thinking that we are proposing by this Bill to make any alteration in the ordinary law on the particular matter to which this clause refers. No doubt by the word "officer" he refers to the officer of the Court, but the same action would be taken by the Magistrate if the assault had been on a bailiff or any other person; and whatever rights there may be of liberation pending appeal, on tendering securities they are in no degree affected by the change which this Bill makes in the law with regard to the County Court.
§ MR. ARTHUR WILLIAMS
The experience of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Longford (Mr. Healy) in Ireland is very different from anything we know of in England, where we manage these things in a different way from what takes place in the Sister Country; but this does not make it a bit the less necessary that we should make the law in this case just. It is perfectly monstrous that a person accused of resisting an officer of the Court should, pending the hearing of his appeal, be kept in custody if the Magistrates refuse to liberate him on bail; and I hope the Government will accept this most reasonable proposal.
§ (7.40.) MR. CONYBEARE
I am not at all influenced by the Attorney General's argument that it is inexpedient to alter the general law in a matter like this. It seems to me that the general law is always in want of amendment. But here we have had an important admission from the Attorney General, who says that what is asked by this Amendment is always done, not as a matter of right, but as a matter of discretion by the Magistrates. I understood my hon. Friend (Mr. A. Williams) to say it was a matter of right for the accused to have bail.
§ MR. CONYBEARE
Well, we have it on the authority of the Government that what is now asked is the usual procedure; but the prisoner has no right to demand it, it being purely discretionary. I know something of Magistrates, and all I can say on this point is that from one end of the country 253 to the other the less discretion you allow the Magistrates the better it will be for the people. If the Attorney General is right, there can be no strong reason for not embodying in the Statute what he admitted to be the general practice. I hold that in accepting this Amendment the Government will be strengthening the hands of the Magistrates, by requiring that they shall do what we are told they always do now as a matter of discretion. Say what you will, there is bound to be a considerable amount of political feeling and bias in these cases; and if imprisonment may result from action taken in a moment of excitement, it seems to me all the more obligatory upon us to take every precaution to ensure that the danger of biased or prejudiced procedure on the part of the Magistrates should be minimised to the utmost. I say that, in the interests alike of the Church, the Magistrates, and the people, who may be the victims of injustice, it would be well to accept this Amendment, because if you give opportunity for the suggestion that this measure tells unfairly against the tithepayers, and that they are to be made the objects of political persecution, you will do more than anything else you could do to diminish the prestige, which is very small at present, of the Church in Wales, while at the same time you will be striking a blow at the authority of the Magistrates throughout the Principality. From my own point of view I should not be inclined to admit that anything which threatens to destroy either the position of the Church in Wales, or the authority of the Magistrates there, is not eminently to be desired; but we are not now arguing the matter on those lines. I am certain, however, that the more safeguards against persecution we can introduce the better it will be both for the Church and the Magistrates. The right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill says the Government do not propose to alter the law as to the position and authority of the Magistrates; but the fact that the Government have introduced a Bill which does make fundamental and important innovations in the general law entitles us to try and introduce such further alterations of the general law as we may deem necessary.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
I do not intend to go to a Division, and shall, therefore, ask leave to withdraw my Amendment.
§ Motion and Clause, by leave, withdrawn.
§ (7.45.) MR. T. M. HEALY
I now move the Amendment which stands next in my name, namely—Where any person for resistance to the officers in execution of this Act, or contravention of the powers conferred by this Act, or any attempt thereat, shall he ordered to find security for the peace or good behaviour, and shall make default in finding such security, a sentence of imprisonment in consequence of such default shall not exceed one month.I trust that the Government will in this case show some readiness to amend the Bill, and I think my Amendment is one they might fairly accept. No appeal is possible where a person is sentenced for not giving security for his good behaviour, and, consequently, I think it would be wise on the part of the Government to adopt the limitation of one month, which I suggest. I do not hear the Welsh Members suggest that the County Court Judges in Wales are too strong in the view they take against Nonconformists; but I do feel that there is among the Welsh Members a very natural anxiety to protect their countrymen from the possible hardships that may result from bias and prejudice. They apprehend that in cases where the sales, consequent on tithe recovery procedures, take place attempts may be made to bind persons over to keep the peace and be of good behaviour, and these charges may involve the proposition that they have been guilty of some breach of the peace or evil behaviour. In such cases in Ireland where a man, out of a feeling of self-respect or indignation, refuses to give bail the Magistrates regard that as a confession that he has done wrong, and there is no appeal against his sentence of imprisonment; but in such cases it is only reasonable that there should be a limit to the sentence. In England never more than six months' imprisonment is given; but six months is a very common sentence in Ireland in default of bail, and these punishments are often inflicted where there are no means of punishing persons 255 under the Common Law, Take the case of a man who prints a newspaper article over which the Magistrates would have no control at Petty Sessions. The accused can be asked to give sureties for good behaviour, and if he refuses he may, and has been, sentenced to six months' imprisonment. I can conceive a case in which a Welsh Nonconformist, taking a strong view of the tithe question, comments on a sale for the recovery of tithes in such a way that some busybody Magistrate may say, "I bind you, Jones, or Brown, over to keep the peace. I cannot deal with your newspaper because I have no power, but I can deal with you, and I ask you to give bail for your good conduct in future." This is constantly done in Ireland, and I want an assurance that if it be done in Wales the period of imprisonment shall not be more than one month. Of course, we shall be told that the spirit in Wales is entirely different, and I must confess that the Government have shown a very different spirit in meeting the opposition of the Welsh Members to what they have shown in the case of the Irish Coercion Bills. I hope the right hon. Gentleman in charge of this Bill will now show himself similarly amenable to the influence of argument on behalf of the Welsh people. At the same time, because I am an Irish Member, I do not therefore wish it to be supposed that I am not free to take an interest in what takes place in Wales, especially on this tithes question, on which, if there is one subject more than another wherein the Irish can be closely linked with the Welsh people it is that of the payment of tithes—a question which, fortunately for them, the Irish people have seen disposed of long ago. I respectfully urge the Government to agree to this Amendment. If they will not, I, at any rate, have endeavoured, in proposing it, to amend this Bill on a point upon which I think it stands greatly in need of amendment.
§ Clause (Limit of imprisonment in case of default of security,)—(Mr. T. M. Healy,)—brought up, and read the first time.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause be read a second time."256
§ (7.55.) MR. WADDY (Lincolnshire, Brigg)
I hope Her Majesty's Government may see their way either to the acceptance of this Amendment, or to explain to the House what is the principle on which they resist it. They may, perhaps, object to the form it takes; and in case they approve the principle, but suggest that it should be dealt with by employing another form of words, I do not think any objection would be raised on this side of the House. The principle of the clause is perfectly harmless. It does not deal with cases of assault or grievous bodily harm, but with mere cases of resistance; nor can it be said that this is an attempt to alter the general law. The matter here dealt with is a simple misdemeanour, of a special kind, and one in which no claim to privilege or exemption can be made for any purpose inimical to the general law. One of the difficulties that arises in regard to the matter is this: when securities are given not only does the person giving them enter into his own recognisance, but he offers the sureties of other persons, and there may be many men who are unable to give such securities as the Magistrates may be reasonably prepared to accept. In that case we know what takes place. If sureties are offered the Magistrate at once applies to the police, and asks them to make inquiries as to the sufficiency of the sureties. It is for the police to say whether or not they are satisfied on this point; so that, to a large extent, they have the power of saying whether the securities should be accepted, and the accused person set at liberty. This is a tremendous power, and practically enables the police to refuse almost any security. The existence of this difficulty renders it all the more important that in the case of those who might find difficulty in getting bail, such as would be accepted by the Magistrate, there should be some limit to the term of imprisonment. As the Bill stands, there is no such limit, and I think I may fairly challenge the experience and knowledge of my learned Friend, who now so worthily represents the law on the Treasury Bench (the Solicitor General), to say whether in what is here asked any harm could possibly be done.
§ (8.1.) THE SOLICITOR GENERAL (Sir E. CLARKE,) Plymouth
I will explain in a very few words why the Government cannot accept the clause now proposed. The hon. and learned Gentleman who has just sat down appeals to the Government, if they cannot accept the clause, to at all events grant some limitation of the period of imprisonment. At present, under the Summary Jurisdiction Act, there is a limit of six months, so that the hon. Member's suggestion as to the despair and sorrow of the man who does not know when his imprisonment will come to an end can have had no foundation since 1879, when the Summary Jurisdiction Act was passed. The hon. and learned Gentleman talks about the difficulty of getting sureties for keeping the peace. I never heard of a case in which any sureties who came forward to enter into recognisances on a question of keeping the peace were refused. Where a man is himself prepared to enter into recognisances to keep the peace almost any sureties that can be produced are very willingly taken. Now, I would ask the hon. Member for Longford whether, under the circumstances——
§ SIR E. CLARKE
Oh! I did not suggest that the hon. and learned Gentleman was not aware of it, but I hope he will see fit to take the same course as he did on the last Amendment. Really this is a matter which touches upon the general law with respect to summary jurisdiction laid down by the Act of 1879. There is nothing in the character of this Act which differentiates the charges that may arise out of its operation from the things dealt with under the Summary Jurisdiction Act. For instance, a threat to kill a person is precisely of the same character whether it refers to an objection to pay a tradesman's debt or an objection to pay a sum due in respect of tithe; and it is most undesirable to insert in different Acts of Parliament exemptions from the general law settled and laid down in 1879, when the Act of that year codified the proceedings 258 which referred to summary jurisdiction.
§ (8.4.) MR. CONYBEARE
I think the appeal, made with great moderation by my hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Waddy), ought to have received some consideration at the hands of the Government; and, as I observe the senior Law Officer of the Crown is present, I think it would be very desirable that he should, if he would be so kind, give us his opinion on the question, because it has not been an unusual occurrence in these Debates, that after the junior Law Officer has stated his views he has been promptly overthrown by the senior Law Officer. It has been pointed out that if this limitation is not introduced the poor men who may be sent to prison under this Bill will, perhaps, be subjected to unduly long terms of imprisonment. My hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Waddy) undoubtedly laid somewhat too great stress on the fact that there would be uncertainty in the man's mind. That uncertainty has been removed by what has fallen from the Solicitor General, who has pointed out that under the Summary Jurisdiction Act the limit will be six months. I put it, however, to the Attorney General, with some confidence, whether in a case like this the six months would not be a monstrously unfair term of imprisonment to subject a man to because he could not find security? Is it an unreasonable supposition that a man in this plight may not be able to find security? The Solicitor General says he never heard of such a thing as any difficulty about finding sureties where a man is willing to enter into recognizances himself to keep the peace. There are some of us, however, who know as much about that as the Solicitor General. There are cases in which all sorts of difficulties are or may be raised for the purpose of obtaining the incarceration of an unfortunate defendant who may be unpopular with the Bench. Many of these defendants will be poor men, who may find it very difficult indeed to provide the security asked for, and what guarantee have we that the Bench will not impose such heavy terms as will render it impossible to obtain sureties? If this clause be rejected it may be 259 necessary for us to move an Amendment limiting the amount of security that may be asked for. I am not anxious to multiply Amendments upon this stage of the Bill, and I think if the Government can see their way, either to limiting the security that can be exacted, or to limiting the term of the imprisonment to be imposed in default of security, they will be doing only that which is just. The Solicitor General has once more brought forward the favourite hobby of the Government, that it would be prejudicial to introduce alterations in the general law by means of a measure of this kind. But you are altering of your own motion the general law of the country; and if we find that, in consequence of that alteration, particular points of the general law will come into conflict with the just liberty of the subject, we have a right to improve the general law if we can do so. If it can be pointed out that the law, as it stands, will operate unfairly against any class, we have a perfect right to try and secure its amendment.
§ (8.11.) MR. F. S. STEVENSON
I think it a matter for regret that the Government have met this clause with a non possumus, instead of agreeing to a reasonable compromise. In poor districts in Wales men may sometimes find it very difficult, either to raise security for themselves, or to get others to act as sureties for them, and the same thing may happen in some parts of England. The people will find it difficult to provide the cash——
§ MR. F. S. STEVENSON
To find the security. The result will be that over a great part of the Principality there will he formed Guarantee Associations, whose object will be to provide security in such cases, and, therefore, you will actually by this measure foment the very kind of agitation which you are desirous of allaying. There are also cases of conscientious objection which would be met by this Amendment. Both the cases of poverty and those of conscientious objection will be left in exactly the same position as they are in now from one point of view; but, while you alter the general law in one respect, you will not 260 consent to a trifling alteration in it from another point of view.
§ (8.14.) COLONEL HUGHES
I understand that this appeal is made on behalf of conscientious poor men who resist the officers of the law after judgment has been given. But what business has anybody to resist the officers? Why should we make easy terms for people who improperly resist the judgment of the Court? I am surprised to hear such arguments used by Members of this House. There can be no reason for allowing in these cases any less limit of what it is necessary to enforce than in any other class of cases.
§ (8.15.) The House divided:—Ayes 83; Noes 113.—(Div. List, No. 39.)
§ (8.24.) MR. SPEAKER
The next two clauses, standing on the Paper in the name of the hon. Member for Carnarvon (Mr. Lloyd-George), are out of Order. The first proposes to empower a person who appeals to Quarter Sessions to require a jury upon the trial of such appeal. On Thursday the appeal was negatived, and, more than that, we have to-day negatived the proposed new clause of the hon. Member for the Gower Division of Glamorganshire (Mr. D. Randell), namely, thatIn any action or matter under this Act it shall be lawful for the plaintiff or defendant to require a jury to be summoned to try the said action or matter.That being so, the House would be violating two of its decisions if it allowed this new clause to be taken. With regard to the 2nd clause, which provides that no change of venue shall be permitted in a criminal charge, it is a matter of such importance that I am quite clear it could not have been moved in Committee without an Instruction. That Instruction not having been moved, it is out of my power to allow it to come on on Report.
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
On the point of Order, Sir, may I point out that the proposal of my hon. Friend (Mr. Randell) was only meant to refer to civil cases, and the clause I moved on Thursday last applied to cases where no appeal is at present allowed.
§ MR. SPEAKER
It is an attempt to re-open the whole question, and I cannot allow the clause to be put. (8.26.)
§ (8.59.) MR. S. T. EVANS
The Amendment I have to propose is the addition of words at the end of line 16, providing that the receipt shall expressly state that the payment is on account of tithe rent-charge. This is the sub-section which provides that the occupier shall pay the sum the landlord has to pay for tithe rent-charge.
§ (9.0.) Notice taken, that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and 40 Members being found present,
§ (9.2.) MR. S. T. EVANS
The section of which this sub-section forms part does away with all contracts between occupier and landlord, whereby the occupier is liable to pay the tithe, and in the discussion on certain words which have now been struck out of the clause, it was mentioned that the tithe might be reduced in amount. Supposing the tithe rent-charge which the occupier would have paid last year under his contract with the landlord were £25, and next year the landlord has to pay a reduced tithe rent-charge of, say £20, the occupier will be compelled by this section to repay that sum to the landlord. In order that the occupier may know that he is not called on to pay anything more for tithe rent-charge than the landlord has to pay, I think the Amendment is necessary and reasonable.
Amendment proposed in Clause 1, page 1, line 16, at end, to insert the words—
And every receipt given for such sum shall state expressly that the sum is paid in respect of that tithe rent-charge."—(Mr. S. T. Evans.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."
§ (9.3.) SIR R. WEBSTER
I do not quite see what the object of this clause is, but it seems to me that there would be no harm in accepting it. I should be a little more satisfied if I understood the object of it, but as the hon. Member thinks that some object is to be gained I will not oppose it.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ (9.4.) MR. MORTON (Peterborough)
As the right hon. Gentleman has been good enough to intimate that he will accept my Amendment I will not detain the House any longer than to say that it provides that the occupier shall pay the 262 full share of his tithe rent-charge and no more.
Amendment proposed, in Clause 1, page 1, line 16, after the word "rent-charge," to insert the words—
Provided that where the lands, out of which any tithe rent-charge issues, are occupied by several occupiers who have contracted to pay the tithe rent-charge, any of such occupiers shall be liable only to pay such proportion of the sum paid by the owner of the lands on account of such tithe rent-charge as the rateable value of the lands occupied by him bears o the rateable value of the whole of the lands occupied by such occupiers."—(Mr. Morton.)
§ Question, "That those words be there inserted," put, and agreed to.
§ (9.5.) MR. SYDNEY GEDGE (Stockport)
I hope the Government will assent to the Amendment I am about to propose. It is, I think, exceeding reasonable and only fair. I want to make the clause read as follows:—That such sum shall be recovered by the occupier in like manner as rent in arrear.The position is this: In the case to which alone this clause refers the occupier has covenanted with his landlord that he will pay the tithe rent-charge. At present, if he fails to do so, the landlord may pay it if he likes, and, if he does, he can bring an action against the tenant to recover the amount paid and any damage to which he has been put, and can enforce judgment against the tenant in the ordinary way. Under this Bill you rightly compel the landowner to pay the tithe rent-charge, and then, in cases where the tenant has contracted to pay it, you deprive him of all the remedies he has at present, and reduce him to the one remedy of distress. I submit that the landlord ought not to be deprived of his present remedy against the tenant who has contracted with him to pay.
§ Amendment proposed, in page 1, lines 17 and 18, to leave out the words "by distress."—(Mr. Sydney Gedge.)
§ Question proposed, "That the words 'by distress' stand part of the Bill."
§ (9.8.) SIR M. HICKS BEACH
I hope my hon. Friend will not press the Amendment. We propose to give the landowner the remedy the tithe owner now has, and that the occupier shall occupy relatively the position he now occupies.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ (9.9.) MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
I beg to move to insert in page 1, line 19, after the word "otherwise," the words—Provided always, that in the event of the bankruptcy of the occupier, the said sum shall shall not be deemed to be a preferential payment within the meaning of the Bankruptcy Acts, nor shall a sheriff or officer of the Court in possession of the goods of the said occupier under process be in any way liable to pay such sum.A similar Amendment was moved in Committee, but it was only between the tithe owner and the owner of the land. In that case it is open to the Government to contend that the tithe rent-charge was the first charge on the land, and that, consequently, it would be unfair to reduce it to the level of an ordinary debt. That argument, however, is inapplicable in the present case. As between the owner of the land and the occupier the tithe is only a contract debt. In the Bill it is provided that the landlord shall pay the tithe notwithstanding any contract to the contrary, but that the occupier shall be liable for the amount to the landlord. It is a contract debt and, being such, I fail to see why it should be regarded as preferential any more than a debt between the occupier and a tradesman. Suppose there is a contract debt for seeds or manure which are used in the cultivation of the land, or suppose there is one for wages. Why should the contract as between the landlord and the tenant be preferential, whilst that between the tenant and the tradesman or labourer is not? That it should be is most unfair for the reason that the landlord as a rule is a man of wealth and can afford to lose a paltry sum of £4 or £5, but to the labourer who works on the farm for the occupier the loss of £4 or £5 would mean the loss of the whole of his wages for two or three months. It would be a great hardship if for the benefit of the landlord, who is wealthy and can afford to lose £4 or £5, the labourer who is tilling the soil and improving it, and whose family depends entirely upon the little he has earned, should be required to lose his wages. I, therefore, press on the Government to accept this Amendment.
Amendment proposed, in page 1, line 19, after the word "otherwise," to insert the words—
Provided always, that in the event of the bankruptcy of the occupier, the said sum shall not be deemed to be a preferential payment within the meaning of the Bankruptcy Acts, nor shall a sheriff or officer of the Court in possession of the goods of the said occupier under process be in any way liable to pay such sum."—(Mr. Lloyd-George.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."
§ (9.12.) SIR M. HICKS BEACH
In a case in which the tenant has to pay the tithe rent-charge he pays it as a charge upon the land in preference to everything else that the hon. Member has referred to.
§ SIR M. HICKS BEACH
When this Bill becomes law such a tenant will not pay the tithe rent-charge. Why will he not? Because Parliament enacts that the landlord should pay it instead. That being so, the landlord having paid the tithe rent-charge Parliament gives the landlord the right to recover the sum from the tenant. It is only fair that this sum should be put in the same position as the tithe rent-charge, seeing that the charge is upon the land, and should be a preferential claim against the tenant.
§ (9.13.) MR. S. T. EVANS
The reasons of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade are clear, but I do not think they are conclusive. The preference given to tithe rent-charge is a preference in favour of the tithe owner. By the Act of 1836 it was intended that the landlord should pay the tithe. The landlords, as a class, thought it to their interests to make the tenants contract to pay it, and now, by the force of circumstances, it has been found inconvenient that that system should continue. The law is now going to enact that the landlord shall be bound to pay, and shall not contract out of it. The substituted sum to be paid by the occupier to the landlord then becomes simply a contract debt between them. The preferential character of the tithe is still preserved. The tithe owner gets it from the landlord, and there only remains the contract debt between the landlord and 265 the tenant; and the question is, ought the contract debt between the landlord and the tenant to be placed, under this Bill, in a more favourable position than any other contract debt? Very often the grocer or the draper is a poor man and can ill afford to do without the debt the occupier owes. The landlord is a rich man. There is no difference in the nature of the debts, and there is no reason why the landlord should have a preference for his contract debt over the draper or the grocer. It may be said that the arguments we are using, in so far as this debt resembles rent, go to sweep away the preferential character of rent. Well, if they do so I am quite prepared for the consequences. I do not think, if we were passing an enactmeut in the present day, that Parliament would dream of making rent a preferential claim, and requiring other creditors to wait until everything had been swept off by the landlord. I will take the facts as stated by the President of the Board of Trade, but all the reasons he has enumerated go to show that the landlord should not have this preferential claim in this case.
§ (9.17) MR. CONYBEARE
This proposal is so obviously fair and just that I am surprised the Government should put the House to the trouble of arguing the point. I agree with my hon. Friend that it is time the preferential character of rent should be done away with altogether. The Government have it open to them to say that they cannot, by accepting this Amendment, undertake to alter the general law, but I can only say in reply to that, that if our position is a strong one in reference to the other points we have urged, we should proceed to alter one of the most inequitable and unpopular features of our law, and reduce the preferential character of rent generally. It appears to me that this is a very wide and far-reaching Amendment in the way it bears on the equitable treatment of many other classes besides those directly interested in the question of tithes. It is not a question of the fair treatment of the tithe owner alone or the tithepayer, but here we are endeavouring to introduce a provision which will secure the right of all those other classes who 266 may be brought into contact with the tithepayer as creditors. It seems, therefore, that we have the strongest reason for urging on the Government first that it is highly incompatible with the popular feeling at the present day that anything should be done in any way to extend the preferential rights that landlords have already; and, secondly, because it is most desirable to extend as far as possible whatever protection you can to the other classes of creditors of the tithepayer. For these reasons I will support my hon. Friend if he goes to a Division, and I can only express my regret that the Attorney General, who is usually a reasonable person, does not see his way to shorten debate by accepting the Amendment.
§ (9.21.) MR. STUART RENDEL
Perhaps one point may have escaped the vigilant observation of the Attorney General as to the obligations the bankrupt occupier must fall under when he owes for seed and labour. The issue is whether the preference which exists in the case of the tithe owner should be extended to the landlord who has entered into a contract with the tenant. I think not, because after all tithe is the result of agricultural operations, and, if there is to be a preferential charge, it ought to be given to labour and to seed, and the other elements without which the produce cannot be obtained. It is contrary to reason that in the case of bankruptcy the landlord should have a preference to the exclusion of claims which are necessarily incurred to give the tithe existence.
§ (9.23.) MR. F. S. STEVENSON
Under a Bill which has become law—the Preferential Payment of Wages Bill—I take it that wages would have a preferential claim in the case of bankruptcy; and, if wages have a claim as compared with tithe rent-charge, much more would they have a claim as regards rent which has been substituted for tithe rent-charge. If the Government refuse to accept the Amendment—and I speak subject to correction—the position will be that you will give a preferential character, not to the tithe rent-charge, but to the rent which has taken the place of the tithe rent-charge.
§ (9.24.) SIR R. WEBSTER
My hon. Friends do not quite appreciate the argument 267 of my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade. The position is this. At present the tithe owner has a preferential claim, the tithe being primâ facie payable by the occupier. We are now saying that the owner shall pay not with standing any contract with the tenant, and it seems to follow that the owner who is made to pay temporarily during the currency of the contract should at least be in as good a position as the tithe owner, who is admitted to have a preferential right. It is said that the landlord should not have a better claim than the man who supplies the seed or anything else necessary to stock the farm, but I must remind hon. Gentlemen that the tradesman need not give credit unless he wishes, but the tithe owner is obliged to allow the land to be occupied until the tithe becomes due.
§ (9.27.) The House divided:—Ayes 94; Noes 118.—(Div. List, No. 40.)
§ (9.35.) MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
I now propose to move the further proviso which I propose to add to the clause. The object of this proposal is to guard against what might occur where there is a contract, such is contemplated by this section, in which the occupier is liable to refund to the owner of the land what he has paid in respect of tithe. I wish it would be distinctly provided, that the landlord shall not be entitled to refuse the payment of the rent because the occupier does not at the same time tender payment of the tithe. It may be that the occupier may think he is not liable to the amount of tithe paid by the owner, or he may have some other objection with the tithe which he conceives to be a valid objection and may, for one or other of these reasons, refuse to pay the tithe. In that case I want to provide against the costs being chargeable against the occupier on the full amount of the rent and tithe taken together, because of his simple refusal to pay the tithe. Let me take a case where the rent is £100 and the tithe £10, the total being £110. Suppose the tenant offers to pay £100 for rental only, the landlord may say, "You contracted to pay the tithe as well as the rent, and I want £110." The tenant may, however, object to pay the £10 for tithe, saying, "I do not think I am liable, or I dispute 268 the correctness of the amount." According to the law as it stands the owner might issue a writ for £110, and the only way in which the occupier could meet the claim would be by paying £100 into Court. Nevertheless he would be liable to the costs on the whole £110, which is not just, because he ought only to be liable upon the £10, which is the real amount in dispute. I hope the Government will see their way to the acceptance of this Amendment which, as far as I am able to see, cannot possibly do any harm.
Amendment proposed, in page 1, line 19, after the word "otherwise" to insert the words—
Provided always, that the owner shall not in any such case be entitled to refuse to accept payment of any sum tendered to him by the said occupier in respect of rent on the ground that the said occupier does not at the same time tender payment of the sum due, under any contract, in respect of tithe rent-charge."—(Mr. Lloyd-George.)
§ Question proposed, " That those words be there inserted."
§ (9.40.) SIR R. WEBSTER
I have given close attention to what the hon. Member has stated, and in reply to him I would point out that in this Bill we have said that when the landlord or owner has to pay the tithe he shall have no other remedy except by distress. In case he wants £100 rent and £10 tithe he will bring an action to recover the rent, which the occupier will pay into Court, and the landlord could not refuse: he must either take it out of Court, or leave it there, and no landlord would do the latter. I feel assured that if the hon. Gentleman will only look at the matter from a practical point of view he will see that there is no necessity for this Amendment.
§ (9.42.) MR. TAYLOR (Norfolk, S.)
I now beg leave to move a proviso which I have put on the paper. As the Bill now stands, the owner, without some such provision as this would be left without any sufficient remedy for the recovery of the tithe; the owner will now always have to pay the tithe formerly paid by the occupier and he ought to have some facility for recovering the money, and if some such facility as is here proposed be not given he may not have the power of compelling the outgoing tenant to refund the sum he has paid.
Amendment proposed, in page 1, line 19, after the word "otherwise," to insert the words—
Provided that, where the tenancy of an occupier who is liable under a contract made before the passing of this Act to pay the tithe rent-charge is at any time hereafter about to determine, the owner of the lands may at any time during the last three months of the tenancy pay any instalment of the tithe rent-charge that such occupier would, but for this Act, have been liable under contract to pay, and may, notwithstanding such instalment not being yet due, recover the same from the occupier in manner as in this Act provided."—(Mr. Taylor.)
§ Question proposed "That those words be there inserted."
§ Question put.
§ (9.50.) The House divided:—Ayes 124; Noes 99.—(Div. List, No. 41.)
§ MR. STOREY
I beg to move the Adjournment of this Debate, and I do so at the special request and with the full consent of hon. Members from Wales who are mainly interested in this Bill. The circumstances under which I do so are peculiar. An Amendment was moved by an hon. Member on this side of the House, who, however, does not belong to us. That Amendment strikes at the interests of occupying tenants throughout the country, and I think I am fairly entitled to move the Adjournment of the Debate, so that we may have the opportunity of putting on the Paper in legal fashion an Amendment which will remedy the injustice which has been committed. I do not think the House can have grasped the fact that the Amendment is so foolish and unfair that a Government of justice and fairness should never have accepted it. But what happened? Without a word of comment from the Treasury Bench, the Motion 270 was put, and, to our utter astonishment, the Government accepted an Amendment which, I venture to say, the common sense of the House, if it had examined it, would have rejected. We must have time, and, therefore, I must detail to the House what is the evil and injustice. ["Order!"] If I cannot discuss the Amendment, I cannot state the case. What is more unfair than that an outgoing farmer shall be called upon under the terms of the Amendment which has been moved.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed "That the Debate be now adjourned.'—(Mr. Storey.)
§ (9.59.) MR. SPEAKER
Order, order! The Motion for the Adjournment, I understand, is founded on the fact that the hon. Gentleman, and those acting with him, did not oppose the Amendment which was accepted by the Government, and it is within the recollection of the House that the Ayes had it, and the Noes expressed no voice. That being so, and when I stated that the Ayes had it, and the Noes expressing no voice, I was precluded from putting the question further in order to clear the House for a Division. The hon. Gentleman was taken by surprise, and, therefore, allowed the Motion to pass without challenge. Under these circumstances, he moved the Adjournment of the Debate, in order to counteract what had been done. The hon. Gentleman is not entitled to re-discuss the Amendment.
§ (10.0.) MR. STOREY
Of course, we quite recognise what it is the duty of the Speaker to do. It was to our surprise that the Government accepted this Amendment, for we all thought they would have said "No." I will not discuss your ruling, of course. We said "No" when the question was put, but to our surprise the Government said "Yes," for we expected everybody would say "No." I put it to the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade if I were a tenant farmer about to leave my tenancy, and two or three months before the end of my tenancy the landlord pays to the clergyman a sum of money which is not and will not be legally due from me—
§ MR. SPEAKER
Order, order! The hon. Gentleman is now putting in 271 concrete form the abstract of the Amendment.
§ MR. STOREY
I admit, Sir, that I am doing so, and, of course, I will not pursue it. I think I have indicated enough to show hon. Gentlemen opposite who do not take the parson's view of this matter that an injustice has been committed in this matter quite by inadvertence. We had no idea the Government would have accepted an Amendment which makes the tenant liable for something not legally due. I must press my Motion. We were utterly surprised at the Government giving their consent. The First Lord of the Treasury will be the first man to admit that when the Government assent to a change in their Bill it is customary for some one to rise and intimate as much. But not one of us dreamt the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill would accept such an atrocious Amendment, and I put it to his sense of fairness—and we have not been unfair to him during these Debates—now to give the House an opportunity of remedying this evil. If we have time we can devise an Amendment which will counteract this evil, which is against the interests of the tenants. Upon these grounds, and without further troubling the House, I beg to move the Adjournment of the Debate.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Mr. Storey.)
§ (10.5.) MR. G. OSBORNE MORGAN
I am certainly not surprised at the course taken by my hon. Friend. I was quite unprepared for the Government accepting this Amendment, which is a most important one. When the hon. Member rose to move the Amendment, I went out for a moment, and when I came back I heard that the Motion had been accepted without a word of discussion. The Division was really snapped. But I am most sincerely anxious to finish this Bill to-night, and that desire is shared by many of my hon. Friends. I will, therefore, put it to the hon. Member for Sunderland, is it worth while to press this Motion to a Division?
§ (10.6.) SIR M. HICKS BEACH
There are three causes of complaint against me. The first is that I accepted 272 an Amendment from the other side of the House.
§ SIR M. HICKS BEACH
That I accepted it without saying anything about it; secondly, that hon. Gentlemen opposite did not see fit to express their own objections to the Amendment; and, thirdly, that the right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken did not happen to be in his place when I accepted it. For myself I can only say that on several occasions I have accepted Amendments from every quarter of the House without saying one single word, not thinking it necessary in the circumstances to add to the length of the debates. As to hon. Members not stating their objections that is no fault of mine, and it is no reason why they should move the Adjournment of the Debate. Of the right hon. Gentleman opposite I will say nothing; he has been a constant attendant, and I am sure he will be more constant in future. I am utterly amazed at the importance which appears to be attached to this particular question. I do not attach any great importance to it either way. It is a common thing for a tenant to agree with a landlord that he will pay the tithe rent-charge during the currency of the tenancy.
§ SIR M. HICKS BEACH
I do not wish to infringe the Rules of Order. I will undertake to reconsider the whole matter. I trust the hon. Member will not press his Motion to a Division.
§ (10.9.) MR. F. S. STEVENSON
If I might be permitted to make one suggestion—it is that, by omitting a single line in the Amendment, the whole sting will be taken out of it.
§ MR. CONYBEARE
Is it a pledge that the Government will re-commit the Bill? Have we a distinct understanding that they will re-consider their position on this Amendment? I want to be clear on those points.
§ (10.10.) SIR M. HICKS BEACH
Hon. Members seem to believe that this Amendment goes further than I think it does. We will re-consider the matter, and I shall be happy to communicate the 273 result to the hon. Member for Glamorganshire.
§ MR. STOREY
Of course, I am quite willing, under the circumstances, to withdraw the Motion if the right hon. Gentleman will make it clear how he proposes to deal with the matter. At what stage can it be dealt with? We are now in Report, and if that be passed, the only remaining stage is the Third Reading, and upon that an Amendment cannot be moved.
§ (10.11.) SIR M. HICKS BEACH
It must be done in another place, I believe. It is impossible for this House to alter the Amendment now.
§ MR. STOREY
It can be done by recommitting the Bill. I have no respect for what is done in another House.
§ SIR M. HICKS BEACH
I will give an undertaking which probably will satisfy the House—namely, that an Amendment on this particular Amendment shall be introduced in another place, so that the House may have an opportunity of re-considering it.
§ (10.12.) SIR J. SWINBURNE
I think we should have an assurance from the Government that they will re-commit the Bill so as to enable us to put a new clause in. If we have no such assurance, then I trust that my hon. Friends below the Gangway will go to a Division.
§ MR. STOREY
I understood the right hon. Gentleman to say he will undertake that such an Amendment is put into the Bill in the other House as will enable this House to re-commit the clause. If so, I admit that that is entirely fair.
§ MR. STOREY
As I am very loth to press the matter to a Division, I ask leave to withdraw my Motion.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Original Question put, and negatived.274
§ (10.14) MR. J. L. MORGAN
I now move to omit Clause 2. The matter has already been thoroughly discussed, and I do not propose to make any observations further than to again utter my protest against the principle which is embodied in it.
§ Amendment proposed, to leave out Clause 2.—(Mr. Lloyd Morgan.)
That the words, 'Where any sum due on account of tithe rent-charge issuing out of any lands is in arrear for not less than three months, the person entitled to such sum may, whatever is the amount, apply to the county court of the district in which the lands or any part thereof are situate, and the county court after such service on and hearing of the owner, as may he prescribed, may order that the said sum, or such part, thereof as appears to the court to he due,' in page 2, stand part of the Bill.
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
I rise to support the Amendment of my hon. Friend, and unless the Government can see their way to amend the procedure, I shall have to oppose the whole Bill under the law. As it at present stands, the tithe owner is entitled to come upon the land and distrain without the intervention of the County Court, or any other Court; and as he knows that if he does anything contrary to the law he may be mulct in damages, we have a certain amount of protection, but when the duty is transferred to the County Court we shall no longer have any remedy against the tithe owner for illegal distraint. You are substituting an utterly irresponsible official for a responsible person. Hence it is we think we ought to have the protection of a jury in every case. The Government have strenuously resisted our demand, for that although immediately a Liberal Unionist moves anything it is accepted, I think it is the duty of the Welsh Members to resist this tooth and nail until the Government interpose the protection of a jury.
§ (10.21.) MR. G. OSBORNE MORGAN
I should like to say a few words in condemnation of this clause. You have, in fact, made the County Court Judges the collecting agents of the tithe owners. By doing so, you have imposed 275 the most invidious duties that can be cast upon a Court of Justice, and the effect will be to create litigation where it was not known before. I ask once again, Who is it wants this County Court jurisdiction? No single person does, as far as I can make out. The tithe payers do not, neither do the tithe owners, nor the County Court. And last, but not least, the Welsh Members as a body join in protesting against it. Only one Welsh Member, the representative of the Pembroke Docks, has voted with the Government on this Bill, and even he has disappeared on this occasion. The parsons, too, are by no means unanimous for it.
§ (10.23.) MR. S. T. EVANS
The principle originally underlying the Bill was simply to make the landlord liable for tithe instead of the occupier, and we were given to understand at the commencement that the occupier was not to be put in a worse position by the new system than he was in under the old. But the whole aspect of things has changed since the Bill was in Committee. The Government have refused our appeal for the right of trial by jury in all cases, and it has been made evident that the object of the Bill is to serve the interests of the clerical tithe owner. The noble Lord the Member for Darwen dissents, but ho was willing to vote for taking away from the lay impropriator of tithe 33⅓ per cent. of his property. We have not made strenuous opposition to the proposal bettering the mode of procedure for the recovery of tithe, because we hope very soon to be put in possession of this public property, but we do protest against the introduction of the County Court if the occupier is thereby to be damnified. On the question of costs, the Government agreed to accept the principle of a schedule, but their Amendment simply deals with fees, and does not touch solicitors' costs. In future, instead of the alliance being between Church and State, it will be between Church and County Court; as I think the Government are making worse the position of Welsh peasant proprietors, I shall join issue with them, and vote for the rejection of the whole clause.
§ (10.27.) MR. STUART RENDEL
I do not think the House is surprised that the Welsh Members are obstinately resisting this clause, because it is one that gives to the Bill that punitive character which we regard as an injustice to Wales. The Bill, it must be seen, metes out very uneven justice to the Principality. In England undoubtedly there is some necessity for tithe legislation, as there has been a disposition to attack the property of the tithe owner. In England, too, the Bill holds out some prospect of a remission of tithe; it whittles down the tithe, and is the first step to dealing with it—a step which can only be justified on the ground that it is national property. But the Welsh have no interest in the remission which the Bill is going to give. They will gain nothing, while the small yeoman is hit hard by the County Court clause. Is it, then, to be wondered at that we naturally resist this uneven-handed justice? I hope that even at the last moment heed will be paid to the strong objections of the Welsh people, for you are only creating difficulties for the future.
(10.29.) MR. PHILIPPS (Lanark, Mid)
I hope that some Member of the Government will answer the arguments of my hon. Friend. It is a serious thing that the Welsh peasants are going to be sent to prison for non-payment of tithe without being tried by a jury. The Government, I hope, will be advised to alter their decision. Their majority on this point was not very magnificent—only 27—and that shows that many of their moderate supporters would not uphold them in this. Let them now promise to reconsider this matter. Liberal Members from Wales may fairly complain that hon. Members from Wales who sit opposite never venture to put in an appearance in these Debates. They hardly venture to put in an appearance in the House. One or two of the Members who represent the interests of the Church in Wales may walk through the Division Lobby, but not one of them will say a word in the House. I really think it would be well that some of the hon. 277 Members' English friends should induce them to stand up and explain why the Welsh tithe payers should be sent to gaol without the advantage of trial by jury. I imagine the Welsh Conservatives fancy that if they only vote quietly they may escape the notice of their constituents, but if they do they will be sadly mistaken. I trust the Welsh Conservatives on the Government will answer the arguments—the very strong arguments—advanced by the Liberal Members from Wales.
§ (10.37.) SIR M. HICKS BEACH
I cannot admit that the argument of the hon. Member who has just sat down can properly be characterised as a strong one. The hon. Member complained that the Welsh Conservative members have not spoken in these Debates. I think it is better that hon. Members should refrain from taking part in these debates as much as possible if they are in favour of the measure. And with regard to those who oppose the measure, I think they also should refrain from taking part in the discussions if they have not studied the Bill. It is evident the hon. Member (Mr. Philipps) has not studied the Bill; indeed it is easy to see he has been spending the evening more pleasantly elsewhere. The hon. Member suggests that tithepayers in Wales are subject to imprisonment without trial by jury, in some extraordinary forms to which tithepayers in England are not liable.
§ SIR M. HICKS BEACH
The hon. Member is doubtless unaware that a provision has been inserted in the Bill at the instance of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. G. Osborne Morgan) by which a tithepayer, whether owner or occupier, cannot be subject to imprisonment merely for the non-payment of tithes. This clause which is an important one, merely substitutes the process of the County Court for the present system of recovery by distraint. We think that substitution will be a benefit to the tithe owner and the tithepayer and specially to the occupying class who by that substitution will be free from the present distraint on their goods.
§ (10.39.) MR. CONYBEARE
The Bill does not preclude the possibility of tithepayers being sent to prison; it only says "by reason of the non-payment of such tithe rent-charge." It has been amply shown in the course of the Debate that tithepayers will be liable to be sent to prison for what we conceive to be the most trivial offences, offences such as those which come under the heading of contempt of Court. My hon. Friend (Mr. Philipps) is perfectly right when he says you are proposing to send men to prison without giving them trial by jury. I think he animadverted with proper severity upon the continued absence of the Welsh Tory Members during these debates. We have a right to ask that we should have the views of the Tory tithe owners placed before us by their accredited representatives in this House. Although I believe there are six Welsh Tory members, five-sixths of them have been continuously absent from our deliberations.
§ (10.40.) MR. PICTON (Leicester)
I am anxious to say a word or two upon this clause as one who is exceedingly desirous of facilitating the collection of tithe and keeping up its value. I do not think this clause is at all calculated to facilitate the collection of tithe. It might have been if some of the Amendments proposed had been accepted. If a jury had been granted in cases under £5, if the appeals had been granted which have been asked for, and if the costs had been regulated as was desired by the proposer of one Amendment, this clause might have worked; but without these Amendments I believe the clause is calculated rather to irritate public opinion in Wales, and in England as well, than otherwise. This clause may be described as the coercion clause of the Bill, a coercion clause specially designed for Wales. I do not think that irritating coercion of this kind is calculated to facilitate the collection of tithe. You can only facilitate the collection of tithe in one way, and that is by conciliating public opinion. I only know of one way of conciliating public opinion in regard to tithe, and that is by applying tithe to 279 very different purposes to the present This clause is only another instance of the absurd superstition, that all you have to do, in regard to enforcing the law, is to bring power, might, violence enough to bear upon the people. We have yet to learn that the only way in which law can be made to work easily and smoothly, is to reform in opposition to public opinion. I contend that the second clause of this Bill violates public opinion, tends to irritate public opinion in Wales; and I believe you will find far more difficulty in collecting tithe in the future than you have hitherto experienced. Therefore, I shall vote most heartily with my hon. Friend for the rejection of this clause.
§ (10.43.) SIR J. SWINBURNE
I beg the Government to take the humble advice of a humble individual, and strike Clause 2 out of the Bill. Some of my hon. Friends think it is proper to put this charge on the landowners. Speaking for the Midland Counties, and more especially for the portion of the Midlands I have the honour to represent, where there are a large number of small landed proprietors, I disagree with my hon. Friends. But we are all agreed on this side of the House that the introduction of the County Court as a means of collecting the tithe is most objectionable, and that Clause 2 should be struck out of the Bill. This is really a Coercion Bill for England. It will cause such irritation that after 12 months' experience the Government will deeply regret having passed it.
§ (10.44.) MR. STOREY
I shall not join my hon. Friend who has just sat down in appealing to the Government to withdraw this clause. I am well aware they cannot. I shall vote against it, and simply set forth the reason why I do so. If any one could with success appeal to the Government, I think the moving appeals that have been made by various Members on more delicate points than this would have gone home. The fact of the matter is the Government are thin-skinned in this matter, and they have made up their minds. I am much more 280 concerned at the present moment to ask where is the promised help from the Front Opposition Bench which we were led to expect in the early hours of this evening. I remember, as in a dream, a right hon. Gentleman of magnificent proportions standing at that Table and declaring that if the Government did not concede a certain Amendment, a strong, strenuous, and determined opposition would be offered to the 2nd clause of the Bill. The Government did not concede the Amendment, probably because they knew that right hon. Gentleman too well, and here we are at the 2nd clause and where are the Members of the Front Opposition Bench? What is the use of fighting the Bill on principle if, when the very clause in which the principle is involved comes on, those who ought to lead the Opposition, either run away or remain silent? The explanation is that earlier in the Debate the Front Benches had not made their bargain; but now it is arranged that if the Bill is passed through its present stage to-night, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Newcastle can proceed with his Motion on Thursday I am not concerned about that Motion. The two Front Benches will tilt at each other with blunted spears, while the rest of the House sit and watch the performance, and a sorry performance it will be. What is the use of wasting time at present in talking about Ireland? Ireland is settling her—
§ MR. STOREY
It is for that reason I want to talk about Wales. I object to this 2nd clause, because I cannot see that it is either necessary or desirable. I admit the Government have displayed good sense in transferring the collection of tithe from the holders of the land to the landlord. From the point of view of the hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. Picton) and all of us who want the tithe to be held and not to be diminished, that is a change for the better; but I cannot see why the landlord in the collection of tithe should have any further remedy than the original tithe owner has; 281 the landlord has much more influence over the tenant than the tithe owner has. The landlord is brought into daily, hourly, and monetary contact with the tenant, and, therefore, he is much more likely to be able to influence the tenant to pay his tithe property than the tithe owner will be. Though I admit the tithe owner in Wales, and rightly so, has found it extremely difficult to collect his tithe, I do not believe the landowner would have the same difficulty, and, therefore, I want to know why the landowner should be singled out by the House and enabled to go to the County Court for the collection of his tithe? If that had been all I should not have objected to the clause. Why should the tenant not have the right to have trial by jury in the settlement of his case? The Government's objection to that, though, from their point of view, founded in reason, makes the Bill repellent to a man like myself. I am astonished to find a Conservative Government objecting to that ancient Conservative stronghold, a British jury. Why could not this matter have been left to a jury? Again, I must say I think the Government most unreasonable in not providing for some limitation of expenses other than the mere opinion, or judgment, or temper of the County Court Judge. I have heard a great many gentlemen from Wales glorify the County Court Judges, but I noticed that most of the gentlemen who did so were of the legal profession. Personally the members of the legal profession are very agreeable, but I am not fond of them as a body. It may suit lawyers and barristers in this House to glorify even to deify the County Court Judges as perfections of earthly wisdom and justice, but my knowledge of County Court Judges leads me to the conclusion that to them no more than to any other men would I leave the fixing of a high scale of costs in matters of politics in which their own prejudices enter. This will be a political question, and there is no doubt that the County Court Judges in Wales, perfect though they may be in many respects, are not in sympathy with the people who are to be tried in their Courts—their sympathy is with the landowner and the parson, not with the tenant and the 282 yeoman. It is, I think, most unfair that the Government should have juggled with the House. When the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade was pressed to make a Schedule, he agreed to it. My unsophisticated Friends the Members from Wales, clever and able, but newer to the House than some of us, thought they had gained the whole point; but when the Schedule was produced it was found to be absolutely damnified by another clause in the Bill, which permits the Judge to contract himself out of the Schedule, and to fix a larger scale.
§ SIR M. HICKS BEACH
I do not think the hon. Gentlemen would like to use the word juggle without some reason. The facts are these: In response to an appeal from the hon. Member for Mid Glamorgan (Mr. S. T. Evans), I undertook to insert in the Bill a Schedule. That Schedule applies only to fees, and was never intended to apply to costs at all. In proof of that I appeal to the fact that the Schedule the hon. Member for Glamorgan placed on the Paper applied only to fees, and not to costs.
§ MR. S. T. EVANS
My proviso stated that they were to be the "total costs, charges aud expenses to be recovered."
§ MR. S. T. EVANS
There was not a single word about "fees" either in my Schedule, or in the proviso relating to it.
§ MR. STOREY
Of course, I would not use the word "juggling" in the sense of imputing to the right hon. Gentleman that he deliberately juggled with the House. I am sure he would not. But I assert there has been an entire misapprehension between the right hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friends. Hon. Members thought they had by their Schedule distinctly provided against the tenants being saddled with heavy costs; they find now they have not succeeded in doing so. Whatever may have been the intention of the Government, they have entirely failed to meet the objections of my hon. Friends, and, as I think, to meet the demands of justice and fair play.
§ (11.3.) The House divided:—Ayes 182; Noes 126.—(Div. List, No. 42.)
§ (11.14.) MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
I now move to insert after the word "due" the following words:—"and not to exceed the rentable value of the said lands." Under this section, as it at present stands, the County Court is to be satisfied that the tithe is due and bears a proper proportion to the value of the land, and then an order is to issue. I propose that the County Court Judge shall be empowered to enter upon another inquiry as to the value of the land. If the tithepayer can prove that the assessed value of the land is in excess of its real rentable value, then the Court shall have power to remit the amount of tithe in excess, and make an order equal to the rentable value. Under the 3rd section the County Courts may, when it is proved by the Income Tax Assessment that the tithe exceeds the value, remit a third of the amount, and my objection to that I will state when we come to it. For the moment I would say that I do not recognise the Commissioners of Income Tax as a competent tribunal for the purpose; there is no evidence given before them on oath, no cross-examination, and no bonâ fide inquiry made as to the value of the land. The Attorney General stated the other night that if one of the parties feels aggrieved there may be application for a valuer; but the appointment of the valuer is in the hands of the Commissioners, and they will have no difficulty in getting their own creature to value the land in the way that suits them best. But if the investigation is entrusted to the County Court the Court will arrive at its conclusion after hearing evidence from the tithe owner and the occupier of the soil, and there will be a full inquiry into the value of the land. The inquiry will be conducted in open Court, will be reported in the local papers, and there will be every security by publicity for an impartial inquiry. To secure this impartiality the investigation ought to be entrusted to the County Courts in the first instance. I have a later Amendment in 284 the event of the House rejecting this suggestion, whereby it is provided there shall be an appeal from the Commissioners to the County Court; but this, my present proposal, is for a more simple procedure, going at once to the County Court for the inquiry instead of first to the Commissioners, then to the valuer, and then to the Court. My Amendment merely provides that a remission shall be made where the tithe is in excess of the annual value of the land. The Government propose that one-third shall be taken off; but that means that one-third of the value of the property is to be taken from the nation and put into the pocket of the landlord. That, I submit, is a monstrous proposal, simply confiscation and robbery. Something has been said about driving land out of cultivation; but if the provision is simply limited to cases where the tithe is in excess of the value, and is limited to a reduction to the rentable value, I do not see that there will be a danger of the land being thrown out of cultivation. I object to a third of the national property in tithe being transferred to a perfectly idle class of the community, while at the same time you are depriving a great Ecclesiastical Corporation of the amount with which in some places they may be doing some good, whereas the landlords are doing no good whatever. There is no pretence they are doing anything in return for what they receive; and if tithe is nationalised, as no doubt it soon will be in Wales, our educational endowments will be deprived of a third of what is due to them.
§ Amendment proposed, in page 2, line 5, after the word "due," to insert the words "and not to exceed the rentable value of the said lands."—(Mr. Lloyd-George.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."
§ (11.20.) MR. PICTON
I should have thought the Government would have had something to say in reply to the reasonable suggestion made. I think this is the farthest limit to which concession should be carried by sound political economists, by true friends of the nation and supporters of national 285 property. My hon. Friend proposes that the tithe shall not exceed the rentable value, and that seems such moderate proposal that at first sight should be inclined to agree with him. When the subject was discussed in 1836 several landowners took part in the Debate who foresaw the time when it would be beneficial to them to surrender these lands to the nation rather than continue to pay tithe, but this proposal does not go so far as that. There is a certain school of political economists, not to be undervalued in their growing influence, who insist that the whole value of the land ought to be made over entirely to the nation. I hasten to say I am not yet convinced by their arguments. I do not entirely agree with them; but so far as this I do go, that whereas in 1836 a bargain was made between those who enjoy the land and the Church as representing the people at large, that bargain is not to be set aside simply because what the owners are required to pay amounts to the rentable value of the land. I think that is reasonable. I hope the Government will yet bethink them of what a serious step they are taking in upsetting the bargain made in 1836. There is an old proverb about the letting out of water, and the truth of it will be proved in this case, unless you can find a reasonable and sound basis, such as I think my hon. Friend has suggested in his proposal that the tithe should not be allowed to exceed the rentable value of the land. It is my confident opinion that this is the utmost limit to which concession should go upon this question of tithe in its relation to the nation.
§ (11.28.) The House divided:—Ayes 120; Noes 186.—(Div. List, No. 43.)
§ (11.36.) Amendment proposed, in page 2, line 5, after the word "be," to insert the words "together with the costs."—(Sir M. Hicks Beach.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."
§ MR. CONYBEARE
I think it is quite bad enough that these extraordinary powers should be attached to the tithe; but when it comes to adding the costs, and 286 we cannot get any consideration from the Government, I think it is time to protest. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman will be disposed to consider a slight amendment of his Amendment. I object to the introduction of costs here altogether; but I do not wish to enter upon the general question of costs, which will be raised later. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he would accept the introduction of the word "taxed" before "costs"—[An hon. MEMBER: "Costs" means "taxed costs"]—well, whether he would not say, "according to the Schedule." I make this suggestion in a spirit of conciliation. I am anxious not to unduly prolong these discussions. Of course, we shall be prepared to show that even in the County Court, as things are at present, the costs which may be charged are out of all proportion to the amount that is claimed against the debtors. In many cases the tithe is of small amount; but it is clear that if the lawyers, for whom, it seems to me, this Bill has been principally framed, are allowed to pile up costs without any restriction, some of these unfortunate farmers will be liable to be absolutely ruined. I, therefore, move to add, after the word "costs," the words "according to the Schedule."
§ Amendment proposed to the said proposed Amendment, to add the words "according to the Schedule."—(Mr. Conybeare.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be added to the proposed Amendment."
§ (11.41.) SIR M. HICKS BEACH
I would submit to the House that the question as to whether there should be a Schedule of costs would be much more appropriately and conveniently raised on the Amendment of which the hon. Member for Glamorganshire (Mr. S. T. Evans) has given notice as an Amendment to that which I have placed on the Paper. I hope the hon. Member will not press this Amendment. I have moved these words in the interests of Members opposite, because it was suggested to me during the discussions that the costs 287 might be recoverable by some other process than distraint. We always intended that the costs should be recoverable in the same way as tithe rent-charge, and the only effect of the hon. Member's objection to this Amendment of mine would be that the matter might be left in doubt, and the tithepayer might be saddled with a personal liability for the payment of costs. I do not think Members on that side of the House would wish that. I have moved this Amendment at their request.
§ (11.44.) MR. S. T. EVANS
I think these words were proposed by the hon. Member for North Kensington in Committee, and the Government on that occasion thought them unnecessary. The only danger of leaving the word "costs" in would be that it might preclude us from discussing the Schedule, unless it were limited by such a phrase as "costs under this Act."
§ (11.45.) The House divided:—Ayes 109; Noes 182.—(Div. List, No. 44.)
§ Words inserted.
§ Amendment made.
Amendment proposed, in page 2, line 14, after the words "or other powers," to insert the words—
Provided that if the officer satisfies the Court that there is no sufficient distress on the lands liable to the payment of the tithe rent-charge, the Court may authorise the owner of the rent-charge to sue out a writ of habere facias possessionem, in accordance with Section 82 of the Tithe Act, 1836."—(Sir M. Hicks Beach.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."
§ (11.57.) SIR R. WEBSTER
In Committee a point was raised whether the words in the Bill would not authorise the officer of the Court not merely to distrain for tithe rent-charge, but also to enter on the farm and farm it if there were no distress under the provisions of the Tithe Act of 1836. It was not our intention that the 288 tither owner should retain that remedy in the event of there being no distress, but that he should exercise the power he has under the existing law. It was on the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby (Sir W. Harcourt), that we put down the Amendment to make the point of law clear.
§ (11.58.) MR. S. T. EVANS
These words have appeared on the Paper for the first time on Report, and they raise an important point as to the working of the Bill. They enable the tithe owner to become the possessor of the land.
§ MR. S. T. EVANS
If that is so, what on earth is the use of inserting these words? I venture to say there are certain safeguards in the Act of 1836, that are not in this proviso. The officer here is to satisfy the Court that there is not sufficient distress on the land. The officer may not be able to reach the goods on the land, and it does not seem clear that anyone will be able to contend with the officer in this matter. The Act of 1836 gave 40 days before any proceedings could be taken at all.
§ It being midnight, the Debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed to-morrow.